An Old Andrei Rublev Movie

In 1932, the year of Andrei Tarkovsky's birth, Stalin declared that the Russian Orthodox Church would be wiped out within five years. Through forced closure of churches, seizure of Church property, imprisonment and execution of bishops, priests, and lay people coupled with anti-religious propaganda, the Soviet regime, since the revolution, had expended vast amounts of energy combating the “opiate of the masses”. Despite a 1927 decree in which the acting head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergius, declared the Church's allegiance to the Soviet Regime in an effort to mitigate persecutions, the Orthodox Church remained one of communism's main ideological adversaries. Spiritual life was seen as antithetical to materialistic communist dogma.

By 1966, the year in which Tarkovsky's epic Andrei Rublev was released, the Soviet regime had somewhat altered its position towards the Church. In 1943, after a Russian victory at Stalingrad, Stalin sanctioned the recreation of the Moscow Patriarchate, utilizing the Church as a unifying agent to bolster patriotism and national identity after a devastating war. Although persecution of the Church waxed and waned over the course of the next two decades, at the time of the release of Andrei Rublev, the Soviet regime was still willing to accept some aspects of religious life which could be used to build nationalist sentiment.

The Soviet position on art was likewise utilitarian, being summed up in this Communist Party declaration which came less than a decade after the revolution: "Cinema can and must occupy an important place in the process of cultural revolution as a medium for broad educational work and communist propaganda, the organization and education of the masses around the slogans and tasks of the Party." With the death of Stalin in 1953 came the Khrushchev “thaw”. Artists began to stray somewhat from the parameters of Socialist Realism and art created for party purposes. Still, art which did not conform to Soviet standards was not sanctioned by the state sponsored Artist's Union. Even as late as 1974 non-conformist artists faced harassment by the authorities when they had their exhibit bulldozed by the KGB for not conforming to Socialist Realism's norms. This is the climate in which Andrei Rublev was produced. A film about an Orthodox Christian saint considered the greatest of Russian iconographers for the glimpses which his artwork provides into spiritual realities.

Andrei Tarkovsky was born in Yurievets on the Volga April 4, 1932 and died in Paris on December 8, 1986. Born to the poet Arseni Tarkovsky and actress Maria Tarkovskaya. From 1951 to 1954 Tarkovsky studied Arabic at the Moscow's Institute of Oriental Languages, after which he studied geology in Siberia for a short period. In 1956 Tarkovsky entered the Soviet State Film School where he studied under director Mikhail Romm. Romm became famous for his depictions of Lenin in a three part series entitled Leniniana. For this and his other works, Romm had been awarded a total of five Stalin Prizes. Although a concept running entirely contrary to the style of Andrei Rublev, Tarkovsky's teacher believed that cinema should be a “direct observation of life”.

Not much is known about the specifics of Tarkovsky's religious life. However, Tarkovsky's friend Michal Leszczylowski has said that, “Religion played an important part in Tarkovsky's life and he was always eager to meet religious people, to discuss with them problems of faith.” It is through Tarkovsky's art that we come to understand the nature of his faith more fully.

Tarkovsky understood there to be a bond between art and spirituality. "Art is born and takes hold wherever there is a timeless and insatiable longing for the spiritual." This bond between art and spirituality is typified in Tarkovsy's depiction of Andrei Rublev. Completed in 1966 yet not released in the Soviet Union until 1971 due to censorship, Andrei Rublev won the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes in 1970. It is hailed by film critics as one of, if not the, greatest films of all time. Just six years before the completion of the film, the 600th birthday of Andrei Rublev was celebrated in the Soviet Union with the official backing of the authorities. Included in the celebrations was the opening of the Andrei Rublev Museum of Old Russian Art. The widespread attention given to the memory of Rublev at this time provided an opportunity for Tarkovsky to, “engage spiritual concerns under the guise of patriotic myth-making”. Despite what seemed a ripe time, religious persecution continued, still making the production of Andrei Rublev something of a risk. The year 1962 saw the reiteration of a law denying parents the right to raise their children as believers, backed up by ideological justification. Between 1958 and 1966, the number of registered Orthodox communities in the Vladimir diocese, where much of the film was shot, decreased by 17 percent, leaving only 54 churches and monasteries. Moscow saw a decline of 19 percent during these years. Still, Tarkovsky pushed on with production.

Andrei Rublev, simply speaking, is the biographical account of the renowned iconographer of the same name. Rublev was a monk of the Trinity St. Sergius Lavra and a disciple of the monastery's founder, St. Sergius of Radonezh. Rublev is accredited with, amongst other works, the iconography of the Annunciation Cathedral in Moscow and the Cathedral of the Dormition in Vladimir, and most famously the icon of the Holy Trinity. Rublev's style of icon painting is a departure from the more angular Byzantine style. Forms with less sharpness are used to create a softer image. The icon of the Holy Trinity is highly praised for its pure representation of Orthodox trinitarian theology. Rublev's genius comes in his presentation of the one Christian God in three hypostases, or persons. The three hypostases of the Holy Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - are depicted as equal, yet unique. Rublev's perfect placement of the three persons allows for a feeling of union between the three, all acknowledging each other, while a symbol of the eucharist, the life they have given the world, rests on a table between them. Between them also exists space in which the viewer of the icon almost seems called to enter by the position of the three persons. This space can be understood as the creative energies and love which flows between the three. It is here, in this seemingly blank yet utterly full and unified space that we can begin to penetrate the meaning of Andrei Rublev.

Robert Bird points out that the Trinity icon inspired Tarkovsky “in the film's thematic structure, in its visual composition, and also in his aspiration to give voice to a silenced culture”. It is through this inspiration of the icon that Tarkovsky comes to present the story of Andrei Rublev, living under the oppressive Mongol yoke of the first quarter of the fifteenth century. A yoke, of course, in many respects not much different from the Soviet one under which Tarkovsky lived. In this respect the film draws a parallel between Tarkovsky and Rublev in its treatment of the adversity an artist must endure while at the same time maintaining artistic integrity and producing quality art.

Tarkovsky's film lacks “clear linear narrative”, and is presented primarily through means of aesthetic impressions which the viewer must take and interpret to gain a sense of the film's overarching meaning. Tarkovsky utilizes these impressions, or images, as if they were pieces of a mosaic. When one stands too close to a mosaic the entire piece cannot be properly understood. One must stand back and view the mosaic in its entirety to see its true beauty and give it meaning. Tarkovsky's scenes present an aesthetic or feeling, not strict storyline or narrative. It is this style which enables the absence of Rublev, the protagonist, for large segments of the film. Through his impressions Tarkovsky thought it possible to capture the essence of Rublev's character and life even without his presence, just as the “emptiness” between the three persons in Rublev's Trinity icon is able to capture the essence of the Trinity.

This lack of participation from Rublev in the film is best seen in the episode entitled "The Raid". Here Tarkovsky places Rublev as, “a spectator alongside us”. It is in this segment of the film that Rublev meets with the spirit of the reposed Theophanes after the destruction of a church by the Tatars in which Rublev had completed an iconostasis. Theophanes, now dwelling with God, has no need for physical forms to lift his mind to the divine. Theophanes explains that images and words fall short of the glory of the truth and direct experience of God. These images exist to imprint men with godly impressions as a means of contact with the divine, yet they never fully succeed. It is at this point that Rublev, shaken by Theophanes' words, renounces both speech and icon painting as essentially futile endeavors.

The next episode, "Love", lacks any speech from Rublev as Tarkovsky presents us with dry, mundane, and sometimes incomprehensible characters such as the Mongols who do not speak Russian. "Love" is followed by "The Bell" in which Rublev regains his will to speak and create. The seemingly hopeless endeavor of the casting of a bell under the leadership of Boriska, a young man with little skill, comes to represent the hopes of an entire village. The bell, in fact, is cast and rings. At the ringing of the bell Rublev is found comforting Boriska who feared the bell would not ring. Boriska here serves as a representation of Rublev coming to terms with his own God-inspired talents. Boriska was fearful that his bell would not ring in the same manner Rublev feared for his failure in his depiction of divine things. We see Rublev holding Boriska near the same spot where the crucifixion scene was shot in episode two. Only now, the cross has been replaced by the resurrection which the bell serves to represent.

Andrei Rublev's lack of clear linear motion unbound by time and space can create a dizzying effect for a viewer. Yet it is the aesthetic impressions which Tarkovsky creates that bind the seemingly disjointed parts to create a truth more mysterious, and existing deeper than the parts themselves. It is this focus on beauty rather than a clear philosophical and ordered construct which I consider to be the films defining characteristic. A characteristic which, in my view, is decidedly Russian. It is a love for beauty which surpasses understanding that helped Rublev create his icon of the Holy Trinity, a true “window into heaven”, at a time when Tatar domination would seem to hinder such creativity. It is this same understanding and love of beauty which allowed Tarkovsky to create Andrei Rublev, in a period of Russian history which was dominated by those who sought to eradicate this love and replace it with cold realism and materialism. In this film Tarkovsky joins these two worlds together to present the timelessness of the creative impulse and man's yearning for truth. By not confining Rublev to iconic historical status, which linear narrative and archaic speech would have helped to do, Tarkovsky is able to create a more universal Rublev. Tarkovsky wanted, “The viewer to see Rublev with 'today's eyes',” in order to show that the human spirit can triumph under the most trying circumstances.

Source: johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/01/tarkovskys-andrei-rublev.html