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USSR, 1966 (MIFF 1974)

Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Andrei Roublev is the second film of award-winning director Andrei Tarkovsky. Ivan's Childhood, Roublev and Solaris have all been awarded prizes at major film festivals. Roublev, made in 1966, has been kept on the shelf in the USSR for several years, following charges that it was 'unhistorical'.

The film is a complex epic about Andrei Roublev, who is considered to have been the greatest Russian icon painter of all time. Little is known of him, except that he lived about the beginning of the fifteenth century, and must have been a monk. His icons stand out for their expression of pity, charity and humanity.

The film opens with a sequence in which a monk invents a hot-air balloon and rises above outraged peasants before he crashes to the ground. It then takes us through various periods of his life, showing the cruelties suffered by peasants: war. massacre, torture and rape.

Roublev engages in philosophical arguments, compounded by personal rivalries, with a venerable icon-painter. Theophanes the Greek. The central differences between their works are expressed by Tarkovsy: "Unlike Theophanes the Greek, who propounded the idea of Judgement Day. who found in Man only an embodiment of sin and vice, and in God a vengeful, primitive being, Roublev placed Man first. In Man he sought God. he regarded him as the house in which God lived".

The argument gives place to a terrifying episode during a peasant festival in which Roublev is seized by guards and escapes flapping in the river like a great fish. From this festival he goes on to paint murals in a cathedral.

The envious brother of the reigning prince meets a party of craftsmen coming to assist Roublev, blinds them, and joins up with a raiding party of Tartars. He leads them by secret ways into the town to loot and massacre the inhabitants. Those who have taken refuge in the cathedral are slaughtered, and the murals are destroyed.

Roublev is forced to kill a man to save a woman from rape during the carnage. But she rejects his protection and goes off with the Tartars. Roublev vows never to paint, or to speak again. In the final sequences, though, the prince seeks a craftsman capable of building a mighty bell. A boy, the son of a craftsman, steps forward: his father has passed on the secret. The bell is cast, but before it is completed, the boy confesses to Roublev that his father left him no instructions. The bell is hoisted and it rings out.

The incident rekindles Roublev's imagination and faith, and he begins to paint again. The film bursts into colour, revealing image after image drawn from his icons.

Andrei Roublev is in two parts: eight episodes dated from 1400-1423, with the four central ones falling within one year. Tarkovsky's account of Roublev's life centres on the dilemma of the artist trapped in a medieval world of horror, but he wishes to make its contemporary significance clear. In commenting on the film, he said: "I do not understand historical films which have no relevance for the present. For me the most important thing is to use historical material to express Man's ideas and to create contemporary characters".

'Never have I seen in an historical film so extraordinary and ‘seamless' a conjunction of ‘period' and nature; buildings, people, clothing, fields and weather . . . I do not think anyone can enjoy Tarkovsky's films. They are too tense, too agonizing, at their best too spell-binding with sympathies . . . in composition, they are like Brueghels.'

Ivor Montagu, Sight and Sound

Best Picture, Moscow.

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