Thursday, March 20, 2008

Andrei Rublev (1969)

* PT: Andrei Rublev. Wadpaw: To serve God as best he can.

* The opening scene shows a man briefly flying in a large balloon only to have the contraption collapse, descend into a river and sink into a quagmire of mud and water. Pretty pointed metaphor for the Russian state, that one.

* An absolute feast for the eyes; Andrei Tarkovsky uses crisp black-and-white cinematography and an unerring eye for composition to make this epic tale of the title character's journey through Russian history as he paints icons and wrestles to maintain his faith in a world which would conspire to do him harm never less than a sensory joy. Rublev swings from the shadowy, sinister timbre of the scene with the pagans to the brutal extravagance of the Tartan siege to the simple, chattering patience of the penultimate scenes involving the bellmaker's son without breaking a sweat. Even in a simple scene like the one where Kirill stalks off from the monastery, comparing the monks to moneychangers, there's an enormous wall of logs used as a backdrop that simply astonishes. Yet even at its most visually active, it never feels excessive; an early scene between Kirill and Theophanes the Greek establishes the sacred as being, "simplicity without gaudiness," and if this is a usable barometer, then the lack of gaudiness in Rublev mark it as sacred.

* Quite effectively paced, with contemplative scenes balanced out nicely by sequences of great activity and boisterous energy. What's more, the reflective tone maintains an unusual level of patience without ever tipping over into ponderousness. Worth every one of its 205 minutes.

* The central siege scene, with its cow on fire and falling horse is a thunderous example of cinematic brilliance, but it's also shattering in a way that few battle scenes are because of Andrei's eventual involvement in it. Tarkovsky lays out Rublev's faith and devotion, his need to live by the tenets of Christ, then shows him in a situation where he's forced to kill and thus violate those tenets. Rublev does it in the act of saving an idiot girl (read: innocence), but Tarkovsky doesn't gloss over the spiritual toll this takes -- the next section finds Rublev having taken a vow of silence and given up iconography in despair for a world that very well might have no use for the God in which he believes. Among other things, it's a cutting rebuke to that action-movie staple scene where the milquetoast peacenik finds his hidden savagery in the refuge of self-defense.

* Said toll seems even harsher in the wake of the idiot girl's ultimate fate, which she chooses (as much as an "idiot" can choose) while Rublev looks on. At first glance, this seems like a cold and cynical thing, a repudiation of the notion of useful sacrifice, yet I think it's something other than that. What Tarkovsky seems to be striving towards is a comment on the nature of sacrifice and faith, that living in imitation of Christ means doing what you can even in recognition that Christ's own sacrifices were at the time/still are unappreciated.

* The last segment of the film features a bellmaker's son who says that only he has the secret knowledge of perfect bellmaking, as this information was passed to him by his father while the latter was on his deathbed. In a lengthy, extraordinary examination of process, he defies conventional wisdom and crafts the bell his way, fighting naysayers all the time. This whole sequence makes a nifty simile for the faith of the truly devout, which makes its resolution impossibly moving.

* At point, a character says, "You're always lying, Foma." Think Kurt Vonnegut saw this film a couple of times?

Grade: A-

1 Comments:

Anonymous Jenny's 47 said...

A "C". You're far more generous than I. I actually stopped watching this crapfest mid-film and you know how much I loves me Al Pacino.

Sweet crikey on a Ritz cracker, Clooney needs to stop with the Ocean's sequels.

12:06 PM  

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