|Anatoly Solonitsyn as Andrei Rublev in the film|
Tarkovsky, with his magnificent individuality, is a legend most cineastes worship. His 1965, 205-minute Andrei Rublev doubles as an unfolding of a 15th century icon painter's life and a parallel commentary on a turbulent Russia, with its warring princes and Tatar invasions. This cathedral-like paean to man's spirituality, more than a conventional epic, echoes the director's seven other films in 24 years — where the spiritual becomes the very plot, not a mere element of it.
Fragmented, unfolding through seven episodes riddled with biblical references, where the painter often functions more as a mnemonic device rather than a physical presence, the film's final version is undoubtedly enacted in the viewer's mind, rather than onscreen.
As if painting with light, with a thought-imbued brush, Tarkovsky's pulsating rhythms and breathtaking long takes haunt us through poignant faces charged with seeking, with action sequences that reverberate with life, with an irrefutable truth underlying his breadth of vision.
A masterpiece of cinematic metaphor, the stark black-and-white film begins with a balloon-launched monk from a medieval Russian cathedral, and concludes with an alluring colour montage of Rublev's surviving icons.
Was the filmmaker a messiah? Was he a fundamentalist? It hardly matters to the dazzled viewer, soon a convert.
Evoking within us a yearning for special moments beyond words, this Tarkovsky film lingers on indelibly. Especially through the tale of the poor boy who pretended he knew the secret of bell making. His belief in this impossibility, on the wings on a prayer, allowed him to intuitively create the greatest bell in the land. His passion, his innocence, his wonder haunt us. For, his faith brought Rublev back to painting.
Threaded through the unconventional film are still racking questions. What is art? What is life all about? How spiritual a being is man? Must a creative soul be a slave to his patron in order to exist?
There are no easy answers in Tarkovsky's frames.