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Monday, May 27, 2013

Andrei Rublev (1969) d. Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Rublev (1969)
d. Andrei Tarkovsky
Criterion Collection #34
185 minutes/Russian subtitles

  From  one perspective, watching a 3 hour film with Russian subtitles seems totally insane, but is it any more insane then watching six episodes of "Cheers" back-to-back on Netflix?  Andrei Rublev is a quality example of a work of art I would literally have never seen were it not for its inclusion within the Criterion Collection. Director Andrei Tarkovsky is best known in the west for his sci-fi epic Solaris, but this is has to be his masterwork.

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

  Andrei Rublev is theoretically the biography of Russian Icon Painter Andrei Rublev, who lived in the 14th and 15th century.  Little is actually known about the guy, and his biography is simply a cover for sweeping- SWEEPING- historical drama about Russian life in the Middle Ages. The black and white film used to shoot Andrei Rublev makes you think it was shot in the 1920s, and then Tarkovsky pulls away for an epic crane shot with hundreds of Russians and Tartars on horses and you're like, "Ah- no- not made in the 1920s."

Andrei Rublev d. Andrei Tarkovsky

  Watching Andrei Rublev is like watching a film from another universe- only a Communist country would both fund such a work AND ruthlessly suppress it prior to release.  One of the benefits of state funded art I suppose.  Over the three hours I spent watching Rublev- and you have to actually watch it because it is in Russian, with English subtitles, I was trying to imagine what it must have been like being an Artist in Communist Russia- there must have been pros and cons.

  The stand out moments in the epic are the scenes of wanton cruelty of the Czar and Tartars alike towards the peasants.  The cruelty is depicted so matter of factly that it can reach even people who have been desentizied to depictions of cruelty and violence.  It's like seeing Birth of a Nation only the troops are raping people and gouging their eyes out before the heroic Klan arrives to save the day.

   The final chapter of Andrei Rublev tells the story of Fyodor, who is drafted by the Czar to make an enormous bell for a church based on his representation that his dead father, the bellmaker, had imparted his secrets to Fyodor before death.  Then you watch this kid make this enormous church bell- essentially on pain of death- and then when it works, he breaks down and confesses that his father never told him the secret of making large bells, and he basically made it up as he went.  It's a rare cinematic moment, equal to anything that Hollywood has thrown out there, and the fact that it comes at the end of this dark, savage movie about life in the Russian Middle Ages makes it all the more exceptional.

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