Corrierino Consensus Project: Andrei Rublev

17 12 2012

The users of The Corrierino forums have recently compiled a consensus list of the best films ever made. Once the votes were tallied, calls for write-ups began and I signed up to pen a few. I will post my entries here as they’re revealed in the relevant thread


Most of the best epics are about the movements of people and the emotional struggles of individuals. Andrei Rublev operates along similar lines, but with an important difference. In most epics, it is implicitly understood that the audience is undertaking a journey alongside the protagonists. But this parallel journey remains a subtext, a kind of whispered secret. We go along with Frodo or with Lawrence, or with Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke, and their soul-searching is partly our own. As they discover the world around them, so do we. We are neophytes to these fictional or historical universes because, obviously, we don’t belong to them, and crucially, neither do the heroes. Often, like Ashitaka and Frodo (or Luke from Star Wars), the heroes are villagers from isolated settlements, which means we discover and explore the outlying country alongside them. Nevertheless, the audience’s participation remains subterranean. We are still principally concerned with the protagonists, interpreting their fluctuating emotions instead of concentrating on our own circumnavigations. Andrei Rublev turns this around. As it follows the titular painter through 15th Century Russia, the camera often hovers away from any specific protagonist, goes on its own flights, its own peculiar visual itineraries. Sometimes, in fact, Andrei barely registers as an important figure, as he recedes into the role of invisible spectator. This is certainly the case in one of the best episodes, where a young bell-maker lies about knowing his dead father’s bell-making secret, risking death at the hands of his employers in the process. His creative odyssey, fraught with danger, ends in artistic sublimity, when he nevertheless manages to build a working bell. Andrei watches from the background, much like we at home or in the movie theater. Throughout the running time, Andrei searches for meaning, and to do so, he looks, not inwards at his own humors, but outwards at the transformations of his surrounding historical moment. Many epics, despite portraying immense geographical displacements, often end up feeling solipsistic, an entire nation reduced to the ego of a single person. Now, this can be engaging, it can humanize a densely populated canvas, but Andrei Rublev prefers to keep its gaze wide-reaching, perhaps recalling other Soviet historical films, which, from my limited experience with them, often focus on an individual to then merge him or her into a larger social movement. But director Andrei Tarkovsky goes even deeper than that. Andrei Rublev locates the intimate truth of its protagonist, not in the drama of dialogue and acted pain, but rather in the direction of his gaze. What he looks at is what makes him who he is, as a man and as a painter. More than any other epic I can think of, we are linked to the hero, as we observe what he observes and reflect on the sociopolitical and philosophical forces at play.




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