A couple of days with the bf this week. Wednesday afternoon we sat down and watched 'Andrei Rublev' by Tarkovsky. It seemed to be the moment to embrace the inevitable and watch one. The bf is a great Tarkovsky fan, but I had always quailed at the thought of having to watch one - immensely long, difficult, surrounded by a fog of film-studies speak. I had already attempted to come to grips, if that is at all possible, with 'Last Year in Marienbad' (Alain Resnais). I gave up. As regular readers of this blog (are there any?) will have read before I have watched 'La Notte' (Michelangelo Antonioni) but bailed out of 'Il Deserto Rosso' after half an hour. What we call the 'Half-hour Rule'. Subsequently I found 'Blow-up' and love it. It's partly that Sixties thing.
(That was a particularly heavy weekend - the one we watched 'La Notte' and 'Il Deserto Rosso' because we also watched 'Il Gattopardo' and 'Roma'. And other things, too.)
I was expecting something of 'Marienbad' with 'Andrei Rublev', but was instead bowled over by the experience. It was one of the most moving, spiritual cinematic experiences I have yet had. I couldn't speak at the end (for fear of crying). At times haunting, moving, shocking, visceral. I was particularly struck, forgive the pun, by the acts of violence, which seemed the more shocking by often being unheralded. I was greatly moved by the sack of Vladimir - by the crowds praying inside the Cathedral, putting me in mind of the two great sacks of Constantinople (1204 and 1453) when crowds filled Hagia Sophia. There was also the scene when the mould for the bell was fired, and when later it was first rung.
'Andrei Rublev' is a fictionalized account of the Late Medieval Russian Icon painter of the same name. It has no concern with is early life; it's concern is solely his life as an artist in the context of his spiritual life. The film is constructed of sequential seven chapters, with shorter prologue and epilogue. We see no painting taking place, but instead each scene portrays an event with profound spiritual consequences for Rublev. Writing this I am inclined to see a influence of Dostoevsky in this structure and use of symbolism in the film.
The influence of Antonioni is also there - there from the start in a certain disembodied feel. A distance. And yes, it is hard work, but the rewards are enormous. I was put in mind of Sergei Parajanov's film 'The Colour of Pomegranates' - another film that was a bf introduction, and now a favourite of mine. A bio-pic of an artist - an emblematic artist in a particular culture, Parajanov's film follows 'Andrei Rublev' by being also structured into a series of events, or chapters. The scenes build on Tarkovsky by being much more staged - a series of tableaux vivant that recall Armenian and Byzantine illuminated manuscripts. That 'staged' quality is latent in Tarkovsky, it is certainly never explicit. Dramatic tension in both films is held in check. Tarkovsky in fact builds tension in a very skilled manner, necessary given the length of the film. I'm inclined to speculate that both films have a liturgical quality that comes from a liturgical culture that is still (thankfully) hieractic and static, indeed both films are curiously at odds with the then prevailing authorities of the Soviet Union.
See both films - your efforts will be rewarded!
Producer: Tamara Ogorodnikova
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky
Cinematographer: Vadim Yusov
The Colour of Pomegranates
Director: Sergei Parajanov
Cinematographer: Suren Shakhbazyan