Thursday, May 17, 2012

2012 Cannes Marathon: Andrei Rublev

(Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival)

Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky and screenplay by Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky, Andrei Rublev is the story about the life of the 15th Century Russian painter. The film is an exploration of a man’s art and his faith during the medieval times as it is told in a seven-part series that also includes a prologue and epilogue. Playing the role of Rublev is Anatoly Solonitsyn as the film also stars Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Grinko, Nikolai Sergyev, Nikolai Burlyaev, and Irma Raush. Andrei Rublev is a sprawling yet enchanting film from Andrei Tarkovsky.

A trio of Monks that includes Andrei Rublev, Danil (Nikolai Grinko), and Kirill (Ivan Lapikov) are trekking around the Russian countryside through the rain where they seek shelter as they watch a jester (Rolan Bykov) entertain a village where Andrei observes the jester’s behavior as he later watches the jester beaten by soldiers. At the workshop of Theophanes the Greek (Nikolai Sergyev), Kirill has a meeting about a job offer for himself and Andrei to paint murals for the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow as Kirill accepts the job as Theophanes also wants Rublev. Rublev reluctantly decides to take the job as he takes his apprentice Foma (Mikhail Kononov) to the journey where they would meet Theophanes and later encounter a group of pagans celebrating naked where Andrei meets a named woman named Marfa (Nelly Snegina) as he continues his journey to Moscow.

After arriving with his small entourage, the job doesn’t become what Rublev is expected as he deals with doubt over his work. Recalling fond memories when he worked for the Grand Prince (Yuri Nazarov) where he felt revered despite the Prince’s cruelty towards those who try to reproduce work for other people. At the church in Vladimir, a young woman named Durochka (Irma Raush) wanders around as she is overcome with emotion as Rublev finds inspiration in his work. With the Grand Prince in Lithuania, his brother (Yuri Nazarov) arrives with a group of Tatars to raid the village and destroy the church as Andrei and Durochka survive though Andrei’s doubts continue to grow as he tells Theophanes that he will take a vow of silence. Returning to the monastery he had left a long time ago where he takes Durochka with him only for her to leave where he’s later reunited with his old friend Kirill.

Eleven years later, Andrei watches a bell being made by a young bell-maker named Boriska (Nikolai Burlyaev) make a bell for the Grand Prince. While the young man claims that his father taught him the art to make bells, many wonder if he knows exactly what he’s doing as Andrei watches him from afar. With the ceremony getting closer as the Grand Prince is bringing a foreign ambassador for the festivities, the silent Andrei continues to watch Boriska do the impossible as he also deals with people from his past including the tortured Kirill.

The film is essentially an exploration into the life of a monk with a gift for painting icons as he faces doubts in a world that is filled with turmoil. Told in the span of nearly 25 years, it’s a film that follows a man who is given the opportunity to create art that will last generations at prestigious church. Yet, in the times that would set the stage for the Tsardom of Russia where chaos has ensued and people become decadent during these horrible times. It would shake the course of who Andrei Rublev is as his growing sense of doubt would lead to revelations about the way the world works forcing him to retreat and watch the world change from afar.

The screenplay that Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky creates is presented with a very loose approach to the bio-pic narrative. Notably as a lot of the film is told from different perspective of other characters who are given scenes where they present themselves of who they are while Rublev is either watching or is in the background. The film opens with a scene where a man (Nikolay Glazkov) tries to do the impossible by creating a hot air balloon only to succeed for a little while. It is this prologue that would set the stage of what is to come where Rublev would be lauded for his work but is filled with a lot of insecurities about his role where he’s confronted by the world around him. The screenplay also features characters like Kirill, Theophanes, Danil, and a few others that would shape Rublev’s view of the world as they either try to ground him to Earth or to have him be part of this new world.

Tarkovsky’s direction is truly grand in terms of the compositions he creates from the opening prologue that is filled with sweeping images of the Russian landscape to wide depth-of-field shots that captures large crowds at either a gathering or be ravaged by the chaos around them. Wanting to create a realistic depiction of 15th Century Russia in this tense period of turmoil, Tarkovsky always wanted to make sure the locations look like a place that is in ruins. Either in a damp setting where there’s mud or any scene that has water, it’s to emphasize a world that is troubled where even in the spring or winter of that year. Something won’t go well as the film would also includes numerous scenes where rain is prevalent to intensify the dark atmosphere of the film.

With a lot of stylistic shots ranging from cranes, tracking shots, and tense close-ups, Tarkovsky creates a film that is about a man being tempted by this new world around him where by the third act, he’s lost. Tarkovsky makes sure that Rublev remains the subject of the film as scenes that doesn’t feature the character is still talked about by other characters as some either want to help him or turn to him as they face some tense moment. The scenes where the Grand Prince’s brother and a Tatar leader (Bolot Ishalenev) wreak havoc on the town with these grand shots has Tarkovsky do a slow-motion take on some of the action for the audience to see exactly how bad things were.

While the film is very long at 205 minutes (in its uncut version), it is paced quite well where Tarkovsky makes sure things get played out while not lingering too long in some moments. Notably the film’s final six minutes that includes colorized images of Rublev’s artwork. It is to play out what Rublev has created in his career as Tarkovsky creates this truly evocative montage of Rublev’s paintings that is in ruins but has somehow endured all of the chaos that Rublev has gone through in his life. Overall, Tarkovsky creates a truly spectacular and entrancing film that explores a dark world where a man’s faith is tested.

Cinematographer Vadim Yusov does brilliant work with the film‘s black-and-white cinematography to play up the varying mood of the locations from the dazzling sunny exteriors to the more gray look of the damp, rain scenes along with interiors to help intensify the dramatic mood of the film. Editor Ludmila Fegnova does superb work in creating stylistic cuts such as abrupt jump-cuts to play with the film‘s rhythm along with some very stylized moments such as the slow-motion scene where the city of Vladimir is raided by the Grand Prince‘s brother.

Art directors Yevgeni Chernyaev, Ippolit Novoderezhkin, and Sergei Voronkov do amazing work with the set pieces such as the huts that many of the characters live in during that period to the cathedrals that Rublev works at for his paintings. Costume designers Lidiya Novi and Maya Abar-Baronovska do wonderful work in creating the robes that Rublev wears to the more dreary clothes many of the other characters wear. The sound work of Inna Zelentsova is fantastic for the way it creates an atmosphere from the intimate scenes in the woods where only the sounds of birds chirping and creatures to more broad sound textures such as the way rain sounds and thunderstorms as it is among one of the film‘s technical highlights. The film’s score by Viacheslave Ovchinnikov is incredible for its hypnotic yet vocal-driven score led by a choir and low-key orchestral pieces to play up the sense of drama that occurs in the film as it’s a major highlight.

The film’s cast is phenomenal for the ensemble that is created as it includes some memorable small roles from Rolan Bykov as a jester that is denounced, Nikolay Glazkov as the man in the prologue, Nelly Snegina as a pagan woman that Andrei encounters, Mikhail Kononov as Andrei’s out-going apprentice Foma, Yuri Nikulin as a friend of Andrei in Patrikey, Bolot Ishalenev as the Tarat clan leader, and Yuri Nazarov in a dual role as the Grand Prince and his more brutish twin brother. Irma Raush is excellent as the mute Durochka whose innocence and naivete drives Andrei to do what is right following the raid though she would also attempt to break his vow of silence. Nikolai Burlyaev is wonderful as the bell-maker Boriska who tries to create a bell to prove his worth only to be entranced by Andrei’s presence.

Nikolai Sergyev is superb as the wise Theophanes the Greek who tries to guide Andrei into fulfilling his role as he also goes into religious discussions with Andrei which includes a recreation of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. Nikolai Grinko is very good as Andrei’s friend Danil who tries to deal with Andrei’s newfound fame while helping him with the sense of doubt that Andrei is dealing with. Ivan Lapikov is terrific as Andrei’s friend Kirill who feels jealous for Andrei’s growing fame as he later returns as a broken man trying to help Andrei break his vow of silence. Finally, there’s Anatoly Solonitsyn as the titular character as Solonitsyn gives a magnificent performance as a man trying to find his way in a new world where his faith is challenged as it’s a very engaging performance where Solonitsyn finds the torment in this very complex character.

Andrei Rublev is a marvelous yet visually-astonishing film from Andrei Tarkovsky. Featuring an outstanding performance from Anatoly Solonitsyn as the titular character, this is a film that truly defines the idea of what epic filmmaking is and what it should be. For anyone new to Tarkovsky, this film is pretty much a worthy introduction though it isn’t an easy film to watch due to its loose approach to storytelling. In the end, Andrei Rublev is a truly grand film from Andrei Tarkovsky.

© thevoid99 2012


Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Nice Review!!! Tarkovsky was a master of his art and no one could equal him in what he did. He could make cinema attain new heights and depths. A magnificent film that is undoubtedly one of the best arthouse production of all time.

Please do take sometime out to read my review of the movie:

thevoid99 said...

Thank you. I'm just getting started on Tarkovsky as I have another film of his on DVD and one in my hard drive. He's definitely set to have an Auteurs piece about him this coming August. From what I've seen so far, the man is a master. I'm checking your review out right now.

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

He indeed was an auteur par excellence! Once just cannot deny someone's genius if it's been certified by none other than Ingmar Bergman.