It is quite interesting that Andrei Tarkovsky chose to make a film on the great medieval Russian artist, Andrei Rublev. Apart from the obvious fact that Tarkovsky had the same first name as the medieval painter, the artist had been really influential in the filmmaker’s life. And so the movie is an important work to watch and study for cinephiles as well as film enthusiasts and scholars, because it is a perfect example to understand what essentially influenced Tarkovsky’s ideology and aesthetics, as well as, articulates what he believed to be the art and power of cinema. He refined the aesthetics of filmmaking, creating visual poetry, stirring raw emotions associated with ideas if faith, honesty and nostalgia from the innermost reach of a human soul.
“Becoming an artist does not merely mean learning something, acquiring professional techniques and methods. Indeed… in order to write well, you have to forget the grammar.”
This above quoted lines not only encapsulates the philosophy behind Tarkovsky’s artworks, but also forms the very approach to watching a Tarkovsky film. There has been so much written on the art of Tarkovsky, from film critics, scholars to filmmakers, that in this article I’m going to restrict myself mostly to discussing about Tarkovsky by Tarkovsky, while exploring his film, Andrei Rublev.
Andrei Rublev is a difficult movie to watch. It is three hours and twenty-five minuteslong, and is lyrical and poetic, which also implies that it is rhythmically slow. Added to that is the editing style and technique of Tarkovsky, which puts weight on each and
every shot of the complete film and hence requires complete concentration from the viewer watching the film. But it is not on Tarkovsky’s agenda to provide you with a work of delightful and enthralling entertainment. Rather he always strove to create an
enchanting and alluring sense of reality. For him cinema was an art, and for him “enormous task (had) been entrusted to art. This is the task of resurrecting spirituality”, and he believed that “emotional construction of images in a film are based on the filmmaker’s own memory, on the kinship of one’s personal experience with the fabric of the film, then the film will have the power to affect those who see it.”
Just as he believed that Rublev’s art had the power to restore people’s “faith in the future” in a time of injustice, pain and suffering, Tarkovsky wanted his works to instill faith in people, and touch them positively and spiritually in some way or the other. Speaking about the film in an interview he explained, “it is not going to be a historic or a biographical film.
What fascinates me is the process of the artistic maturity of the painter, the analysis of his talent… we are less interested in historical stylization through costumes, settings, and language. The historical details are not supposed to divide the attention of the viewer, only to convince him that the action really takes place in the fifteenth century. Neutral set decorations, neutral (yet convincing) costumes, the landscapes, the modern language- all this will help us to talk about the most essential aspects, without distracting the audience.”
As the film is composed in a complex form, where movement or action does not drive the narrative to a cohesive plot, but rather through emotions and ideas, what comes apparent is that Tarkovsky is preoccupied with exploring the nature of the evolution
of an artist, and his personality, devoid of what historical time and context it is set in. Tarkovsky wanted to “avoid any traditional dramaturgy, with its canonical isolation, its logical, formal schematism, because it often prevents full expression of the richness and complexity of life.” What we see in the film is Rublev in different situations, conditions and circumstances, its effect on him and his reaction to it. All of these experiences translated into his artworks, and of course a core part of his intellect and vision on life. “Every event that human beings experience becomes part of their
character, part of their outlook, part of the people themselves. Therefore, the ‘events’ in the film are supposed to form not just the background in which the ‘hero’ is placed”, Tarkovsky says trying to justify why the film does not consist of episodes that are directly or logically connected to one another.
What is the most fascinating aspect of the film, is that while the whole film is shot black and white, the last sequence is in color. The only color sequence in the whole film shows Rublev’s artworks, in extreme close ups. There is not a single shot in the whole movie which shows Rublev working or painting the icons. So clearly, what Tarkovsky is striving to show is what goes into making an artist, and finally in the end, what he creates out of all that he has experienced and learned, translated and evident gloriously in his everlasting works of art. Another thing to note, which most viewers may tend to miss out, given the length of the film, is that with “the appearance of every icon on screen will be accompanied by the same musical theme that will have played during the corresponding filmed episode of Rublev’s life symbolizing the period of development of the idea for that icon.”
Tarkovsky’s choice of color in the last sequence was driven by a careful thought, which was that “the appearance of color at the end of a black and white film allowed us to establish a connection, a relationship between two different notions. Here is what we wanted to say: black and white cinema is the most realistic because,
according to me, color cinema has not yet attained the stage of realism. It still resembles photography and is, in all cases, exotic… The association of the color finale and the black and white film expressed, for us, he relationship between Rublev’s art and his life… We enlarged some details because it is impossible to translate painting, with its own dynamic and static laws, into cinema…
it was only in the presentation of details that we tried to create impression of the whole of his painting…in order to make the spectator rest from the spectacle of the film, in order to prevent him from leaving the room right after the last black and white images, so he could have some time to detach himself from Rublev’s life. We imposed time to think, in order to enable some ideas about the entire film to cross his mind while looking at the color and listening to the music so that, retrospectively, he would be able to imprint within himself some of the most important moments of the story. In a word, in order to prevent him from closing the book right away.”
Andrei Rublev is a beautiful portrait of not only the artist, but of an Artist in general as well as of Andrei Tarkovsky. It expresses the spirit and passion that was driving Rublev to create art selflessly for people, to give them hope and faith, while at the
same time the films gives us an insight of what Tarkovsky wished, intended and desired to achieve through his work, which again in his own words articulate it best, “The main thing that I want to express in my film is the burning of a person in the name of an all consuming idea, an idea that possesses him to the point of passion.”
Andrei Tarkovsky quotes taken from Andrei Tarkovsky Interviews, edited by John Gianvito