Andrei Rublev (Tarkovsky, 1966)

In anticipation of viewing the full original version of Andrei Rublev in 35mm at the Vancouver Cinematheque tonight, here’s an old post — or rather a message I sent — detailing the film:

Tarkovsky uses religion (christianity of course in particular) to identify the state of 15th century Russia. In this medieval time Religion is the authority force. The priests act as agents of power with as much, if not more, power than the police (which is basically founded on the religious view of the time). Think about the buffoon scene, the man is acting like a buffoon, so Kirril gets him arrested. This is because the idea of the time was that “A priest is God’s doing, a buffoon the Devil’s”. The film is based on the real life of the painter/artist/priest Andrei Rublev of the 15th century, and as much of a historical and religious account it is, it’s much more about artistic expression, freedom, and art-induced spirituality.

As far as I know, Tarkovsky was not a conventionally religious man, but, judging by his films and his writing (esp. in his book Sculpting In Time) he believed in a higher power, something greater than him, and he was deeply spiritual, believing that art is the road to experiencing this spirituality. In Rublev, there are three ‘artists’ – Theophanes, Rublev, and Boriska. Each of them have a gift, and by using it, they spread joy and faith to the common people. Their art is their connection to the spiritual or religious world, and their expression through art allows others to feel it as well.

This is Kirill’s problem with Rublev, he is jealous and angry (begins jealous, turns into angry). He is jealous of Rublev’s gift, and then he is angry that he doesn’t USE it. He, Kirill, can be seen as the voice of Tarkovsky. In Kirill’s speech to Andrei towards the end, he says “Go to the Trinity an paint, it’s a sin to reject a God given gift” and then he talks about how he’s going to die and leave nothing after him. Andrei’s art is spiritual and universal, if it’s left after him, it is essentially a testament to God. As epic, pure art, it would be something in the world that can connect people to God and feel his awesomeness, and it would inspire faith. But, it’s noteworthy that for Tarkovsky, this isn’t just Christian religion, this is how he feels about Art and the spirituality of art – something that transcends conventional religion.

The film uses religion to depict history, but it denounces religious authority. It portrays the hypocrisy, the corruption, and the unworthy power of christian religion over the people. Kirril tells Andrei ‘Don’t listen to Nikon, he just wants to strengthen and glorify his power with your talent”. Religion in this time is more about money and power than spirituality. The film illustrates how art is more deeply religious or spiritual, and has a greater capacity for connecting one with the eternal than religious traditions or beliefs. It shows that you don’t need religion to be religious. We are spiritual beings in essence, and art is a key for opening that door.

The incredible Bell scene roughly articulates Tarkovsky’s view of faith. Boriska is scared, but he has faith that he will live up to his father’s name. His faith allows him to do what he didn’t think he could, and the Bell spreads his faith to the people. When Boriska is crying in Rublev’s arms, he says “you have created such a feast, such a joy for people. We’ll go to the trinity, you and me, you casting bells, and me painting”. You could even compare the Holy Trinity to the trinity of artists portrayed in Rublev: Theophanes, Andrei Rublev, Boriska.

The last couple of minutes are also significant. We are left with icons, images from the 15th century, that are still around today, and have as much artistic value and share as much of that connection with the eternal as ever before. It’s not the religious going-on’s of the 15th century that connects us with history and connects us with spirituality, it is the art of the time that does this. Essentially, art is more powerful than conventional ‘religion’. Music is a major part of this for Tarkovsky as well, but since we’re dealing with 15th century Russia, it’s mostly icon painting and such… the classical music played in various parts (particularly the ending) is another example of art that connects us with history and universal, human spirituality – something truly religious, unlike the power and hypocrisy of the religious authority at the time.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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