Andrei Rublev Review
Andrei Rublev opens with a curious scene, removed in character and tone from much of the rest of the film. In this scene, a man is set free hanging from the ropes of a hot air balloon. The camera follows his ride as he is, at first, elated with the fact that he is ‘flying’; however, the balloon soon weighs down and he crashes into a riverbank, presumably killing him. This event and character are never mentioned again, yet the experience of true, expressive freedom only to be suppressed by the limits of the world around him resonates throughout the whole of Andrei Rublev. In the words of Tarkovsky himself, this is an integral piece of the film as a whole – the work of the human “demand[s] that, for the price of his creation, man should die, dissolve himself in his work, give himself entirely.” In this opening scene, “the man flew and, for that, he sacrificed his life”
At the end of this ‘prologue’ we are given a striking image of a horse struggling to roll off its back and onto its feet. The perennial favorite of director Tarkovsky, the mystic aura of the horse beckons us into the bewitching world of his masterpiece, Andrei Rublev.
Andrei Rublev is an absolutely massive film, a monolith of cinema whose reputation precedes itself so much that it may seem as if it can never live up to these lofty expectations. Separated into eight loose “episodes” (including the prologue), Andrei Rublev chronicles the life of the titular painter as he drifts through turbulent times, never certain of his place in life. Each episode shifts from fascinating monologues about the nature of religion to spectacular set pieces including a run-in with a mass of nude pagans, an impeccably staged sack of the city of Vladimir and, my personal favorite, the story of the massive amount of effort and exertion that goes into the creation of a tremendous bell for the Grand Prince’s city. Rublev’s identity – as a Russian, a Christian, an artist and a man – is deeply ingrained into every second of this film, even when he has no agency in the events that are occurring.
As a character, Rublev is far from alone in what, at often times, doesn’t even feel like his story. With each new episode, we get a fuller sense of not just the central character but each character in the peripheries as well. For example, Durochka is a slow, childlike and feral young woman who wanders into the film around the midway point. Her appearance is slightly bewildering to the audience yet it retains a great significance to Rublev. This significance is not fully comprehended until the last episode of the film, where we realize how much this strange young woman means to the full sweep of Tarkovsky’s vision. At over three hours long and often valuing philosophy and thematic richness over plot, this is a film of long payoffs and bountiful rewards.
Tarkovsky builds this, his second film, with a rich literary quality, not dissimilar from the works of Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This, of course, means that Andrei Rublev is quite dense but it remains far from impenetrable. Like many of Tarkovsky’s other films, including Solaris and Mirror, Andrei Rublev is concerned with the crossroads of our existence and the meaning behind our existence. Stark violence, grueling work and human suffering are paired with monologues about the place of Christ in the Russia of the 1500s as well as whether art should be a reflection of the outside world or partake in the development of history. Not only is Andrei Rublev a supreme work of art, it is also a supreme work of vibrant life, marrying the painter with his influences and the painting with the world around it.
Like the greatest works of art, Andrei Rublev’s qualities lie in its imperfections. The cracks and wear visible in Rublev’s paintings in addition to the slightly disproportionate quality of his art fills in the gaps of his legacy. By the time we finally view Rublev’s art in all its glory, we get the sense that we are seeing both the work and the legacy at the same time, the imperfections mounting on top of each other until it reaches what can only be counted as a monumental achievement.
Andrei Rublev arrives with a very good transfer from Artificial Eye, proving to be a massive upgrade over all previous DVD releases. Detail is greatly improved and it retains a great filmic texture to it all. In addition, the print has been cleaned up quite a bit and, compared to the old Criterion release, looks quite impressive. Unfortunately, I think that Artificial Eye has skimped on the encoding a bit and the transfer suffers ever so slightly (especially in brightness and sharpness). This, along with the fact that this is the shorter version of the film, means that, while this is still quite a good transfer, there is room for improvement.
Much like the video transfer, the audio quality is very good. The dialogue is quite clear and the music comes through with booming vibrancy. The limitations here are most likely due to the limitations of the time and the age of the film. I didn’t notice any pops, damage or dropouts and, overall, the disc sounds quite nice.
All of the extras are housed on a completely separate Blu-ray, presumably to give the feature the most room to breathe. Still, it’s a bit of a strange choice considering there’s not even half an hour’s worth of footage. The first feature is titled Andrei Tarkovsky’s Metaphysical Dream Zone: An Introduction by Mary Wild – a long title for a mere two-and-a-half minute introduction. It’s interesting but a little useless when it’s followed by a 14-minute interview with her, titled Andrei Rublev- Metaphysical Structure, that covers some of the same ground. She’s an interesting speaker but both extras amount to not much at all, feeling as if they are missing quite a bit. This may be due to the fact that the longer piece is part 2 of a lengthy visual essay spread between this and six other releases. These are followed by a brief, 5-minute interview with Yuri Nazarov, who has a small role in the film, and an even shorter, 2-minute interview with Marina Tarkovsky the director’s sister. Both of these are slightly disappointing given what they could have been but they are still worthy pieces of archival material. Lastly, there is a short Making Of, which, though containing a few invaluable images, is a pretty generic extra.
Thankfully, the release comes with a wonderful 36-page Booklet. Given the fact that most of the on-disc extras are fairly disappointing, this booklet is surprisingly excellent. It starts with an analysis of the prologue before moving on to an essay by Philip Strick titled ‘The Re-Shaping of Rublev’ which details the making, meaning and legacy of the film, including an analysis of its many versions. The booklet also contains a short interview with Andrei Tarkovsky conducted by Maria Chugunova as well as a brief biography of the director.
Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 masterpiece Andrei Rublev is a passionate, pseudo-historical epic, crafting a fictionalized account of the life of the titular painter. His experience and his role as an expression of the human condition defines Andrei Rublev, the figure and the film, as an integral piece of the human experience and an absolutely essential work. This is a serviceable Blu-ray release, containing strong, if flawed, video and audio transfers along with a small collection of reasonably interesting extras. If only for the presentation of one of the greatest films of all time in high definition, this is an excellent release.