The historically audacious epic drama that emerged as an icon of rebellious conflict in a turbulent soviet Russia, Andrei Rublev- 1966, breathes of virtuosity and stands as one of the first films to be produced under an autodidactic regime and of political ambiguity; it is a cultural phenomenon, that symbolizes the artist as a spiritual figure and a maxim of hegemonic historical identity.
The April fourth, 2021, is marked as the 89th anniversary of a director, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose cinematic sensibility transmutes poetic beauty and magical spirituality with a vigorous testament that imprints profound simplicity on the screen unlike no other.
The movie titles have the same name as that of the director, Andrei Tarkovsky and the famous Russian iconographer, Andrei Rublev (circa 1360- 1427), a 15th-century painter. Tarkovsky, whose artistic comprehension is very much poetic, puts forth the movie in a literary structure: Two parts, Eight chapters with a prologue and an epilogue. The movie, then ‘The passion according to Andrei’ was shelved to be later premiered at the 1967 Cannes film festival.
The socio-realist enigma that is portrayed on the screen by Tarkovsky is mesmerizing. Like Bela Tarr, he too amalgamates the social and the simple. The chapters, like Vivaldi’s set, have an impressive timeline of the seasons with word-play that throws light on the religious and the political aspect through the lens of a soviet regime. The Soviet upheaval gave birth to his first work, Ivan’s Childhood (1962).
The factor of the trinity is a recurring element in Tarkovsky’s work: The three friends- Andrei, Kirill and Daniil (three different artists and their unique sensibilities). The three elements in the story- Christianity, polity and art. In his other work, the Stalker (1980), too, we come across the three identities who are in search of the Zone- The writer, the stalker and the scientist.
The prologue is more of an overture, happening at the same time as the rest of the world in the film. We are introduced to a man escaping on a hot air balloon, leaving the audience with many questions. The scene brims with sublime cinematography which is dynamic and disorienting. The camera floats with the balloon, with a personification of that of a vital subconsciousness looking across the landscape of Russia and its people.
When the jester, the skomorokh, who entertains the audience in a shed, while it is raining outside, is an oxymoron- the distraught in the surroundings and calmness in the shed. This happens before the authority barges in and breaks his violin and apprehends him. The scene is so powerful and yet so entertaining.
We witness these chapters that add up to a stimulating architecture. The grim pillars of historical reality support the extravagance of the whole. From the primitive experiment in balloon flight; the cavorting of a condemned skomorokh; the sagacious rumination of Theophanes; an orgy among pagans; punishment of the stonemasons by having their eyes gouged out; the sacking of a cathedral in the city of Vladimir; Rublev’s vow of silence; and the casting of the bell.
A commentary on the Soviet days stands true even today. Artistic freedom and censorship, have always been a part of the societal surrounding which is under scrutiny. The narrative of the same can be found with modern jesters, instead of barns we have stages. Andrei Rublev stands the test of time.
Part one of the movie deals with the point of view of the artist and the thematic weight that he carries on cerebral freedom and artistic faith. How does the upheaval change the protagonist and how does he preserve his creativity during the same?
During Theophanes the Greek monologue, Rublev speaks: “How can you paint being in this frame of mind?”. To which Theophanes says, “They praise you today and vilify tomorrow. The next day they’ll forget why they praised you.” Tarkovsky makes a strong statement on the artistic freedom and the mental agony of an artist.
Andrei Tarkovsky is a poetic filmmaker. Tarkovsky is someone who speaks about the play of time as a livid experience in cinema. In his book, ‘Sculpting in time’ (1984), he writes, “Time, printed in its actual forms and manifestations: such is the supreme idea of cinema and art”.
The shots in Rublev are surreal, shot in black and white like a painting and have a rhythmic foundation; the visuals of the white paint dispersing in the stream or the re-enactment of Christ’s crucifixion across the snow mountain.
Tarkovsky’s aesthetics bring organic editing that maintains consciousness and seamless expressionism with the foreground of a dreamlike flux, reaching harmony. There is beauty in turbulence. Tarkovsky, despite his avant-garde leanings, ultimately gravitates toward nineteenth-century Romanticism and its fin-de-siècle mystical offshoots. Ingmar Bergman calls his films, ‘not a document, but a dream’.
Tarkovsky is a master in locating the magical in the upheaval and conjures drenching richness just from mud. His signature motives are to submerge the audience with an impending complexity, unconsciously, making the audience contemplate as the characters do so.
Just like the firing squad that stood in front of the writers, Dostoevsky and Brodsky. Tarkovsky left Soviet Russia in 1982.
An author’s poetic principle emerges from the effect made upon him by surrounding reality, and it can rise above that reality, question it, engage in bitter conflict; and, moreover, not only with the reality that lies outside him but also with the one that is within him.
We see it in the last chapter, ‘The bell’. It begins with a bird’s view, from a high angle, with bells pealing all over, the scene resembles a cavalcade of Russian glory, a panoramic spectacle, like the Phoenix rising into the air and fading into ash.
“My father, old serpent, he never passed on the secret.”, Boris says. Rublev replies, “And you see how everything turned out; all right, it’s all right. So, we will go together: you will cast bells, and I will paint icons.” At the same time, the camera roams with an idiosyncratic panoramic eye, zeroing in on anguished faces and zooming back out to revel in the Russian veracity.
The bell sequence is, finally, an allegory of the creative process: great art rests on some murky mixture of magic, truth, conflict and it portrays the resurrection of the artist. The role of an artist is that of a historical spiritual guide who with courage and awakening is supposed to lead the rest to a philosophical pinnacle.
Like Rublev, I too do not know how to comprehend the ringing of the Bell and where to look for faith in a time of broken mysticism. But, Tarkovsky has bestowed us with a gift of looking for rhythm and magic in everyday life, like a drug. So, I patiently wait for the Bell to reverberate.
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