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Andrei Rublev (1966)

Insanely overlong, maddeningly opaque, visually striking but bleak, violent, stark--this would be a very easy movie on which to let the tiger out of the cage.  But it also has a great reputation, both among cinephiles in general and among conservatives and the religious.  So one is willing to give it more chances than it might otherwise deserve.  And if you do stick with it until its final third or so, the rewards are bounteous.

Andrei Tarkovsky tells the story of the great 15th Century icon painter, Andrei Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn), in a series of vignettes.  The film opens with a famous scene of a man being dragged aloft by an escaping hot air balloon.  He soars overhead beckoning the people bellow to follow him, but they can't or don't.  Much of the rest of the film is taken up with Rublev's wanderings about Rus (old Russia) during a time of paganism, plague, poverty and marauding Tartars.  Rublev is so disturbed by what he sees and by one violent reaction of his own, that he retreats into silence and gives up his artistry.  But the final episode that he witnesses, which really makes the film, restores his faith and revives his desire to create art.

In this last story a young man, the son of a bell maker, convinces a noble's men that he can cast a great bell for them, that his father has handed down the secrets of the trade to him.  But as the work progresses the boy, Boriska, makes missteps and squabbles with the workmen who served his father.  At one point he is in desperate need of clay to fortify the mold for the bell, but can't find earth of the right consistency anywhere.  Then fate intervenes and, chasing a lost shoe, he slides down a hill into a muddy patch of just the right kind of clay.  Insisting that he be given a precise mix of precious metals, teetering on the edge of exhaustion, Boriska drives himself until the bell is done.  Amazingly, when freed from its mold it proves beautiful and the tone it produces rings true.  Only then does the boy reveal how truly miraculous it is that such beauty has arisen from the mud because his father died with the secrets unspoken and Boriska was actually learning as he went.  In the end he got by on little more than faith.  Rublev, who in this section as in most of the others is more a spectator than a player, goes to the boy and breaking his silence urges the boy to come with him and cast church bells while he, Rublev, will paint icons to adorn the walls.  In particular, Rublev has been asked by Abbott Nikon of Radonezh of the Holy Trinity Monastery in Moscow to paint an icon commemorating the prior abbot, St. Sergius of Radonezh.

All that has gone before is in black and white, but in the last images of the film Tarkovsky shows color details of Rublev's greatest work, the Icon of the Holy Trinity (1410), based on Genesis 18, when the Trinity is understood to have appeared to Abraham :

    1: And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;
    2: And he lift up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door,
        and bowed himself toward the ground,
    3: And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant:
    4: Let a little water, I pray you, be fetched, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree:
    5: And I will fetch a morsel of bread, and comfort ye your hearts; after that ye shall pass on: for therefore are ye come to your servant.
        And they said, So do, as thou hast said.
    6: And Abraham hastened into the tent unto Sarah, and said, Make ready quickly three measures of fine meal, knead it, and make cakes
        upon the hearth.
    7: And Abraham ran unto the herd, and fetcht a calf tender and good, and gave it unto a young man; and he hasted to dress it.
    8: And he took butter, and milk, and the calf which he had dressed, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree,
        and they did eat.
    9: And they said unto him, Where is Sarah thy wife? And he said, Behold, in the tent.
    10: And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. .

Obviously the director is telling us that the themes he has been exploring in Rublev's life, about which little is actually known, have come together in this magnificent artwork.  As always with Mr. Tarkovsky, it's difficult to impose precise meanings on his narrative, but some of the ideas we can trace include the idea that the artist, though he must get down in the muck and experience life, must at least in his art rise above and lead the rest if humanity.  The Trinity with its mysterious unity may also represent the necessary unifying of the various strata of the society that Rublev encountered--the wealthy nobles, the impoverished peasants, the churchmen who uneasily occupy the middle ground, perhaps even the Tartars.  The painting and the film are certainly both invitations to us to join with the Trinity in the unity of love that they offer.  On a more personal level the struggle of Boriska to create a bell on his own, without access to his father's wisdom, apparently represents Tarkovsky's own belief that each generation must discover artistic truths for itself.  On all these levels, and many more that I'm sure eluded me, the film communicates its fascinating and beautiful ideas to us, so long as we've the patience to let it unwind to the end.


Grade: (A)


See also:

    -FILMOGRAPHY : Andrei Tarkovsky (
    -Great Directors--a critical database : Andrei Tarkovsky (Maximilian Le Cain, Senses of Cinema)
    -ESSAY : Andrei Tarkovsky's Cinema of Spirituality
    -ESSAY : The Long Take That  Kills : Tarkovsky's rejection of montage (Benjamin Halligan, November 2000, Central Europe Review)
    -ESSAY: Masters in Pieces (David Hudson, FEB 12, 2021, Criterion)
    -ESSAY : Tarkovsky, or the burning house (Petr Král, 1 March 2001, Screening the Past)
    -REVIEWS : Andrei Rublyov (1969) (Movie Review Query Engine)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Nigel Savio D'Sa, Journal of Religion and Film)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Anna Dzenis, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Acquarello, Strictly Film School)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Dev, DVD Beaver)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Doug Pratt DVD Review)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (Brian Koller, Films Graded)
    -REVIEW : of Andrei Rublev (BILL SCHWARTZ,
    -REVIEW : of The Sacrifice (Acquarello, Strictly Film School)
    -REVIEW : of The Sacrifice (Gino Moliterno, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW ESSAY : Zarathustra's gift in Tarkovsky's The sacrifice (Gino Moliterno, 1 March 2001, Screening the Past)
    -REVIEW : of Ivan's Childhood (Fergus Daly and Katherine Waugh, Senses of Cinema)
    -REVIEW : of Nostalghia (Acquarello, Senses of Cinema)

    -Andrei Rublev Museum (Moscow)
    -Andrei Rublev (c.1370-1430) (Alexander Boguslawski, Rollins College)
    -St.Andrei Rublev Icon Studio (Fr. Raymond A. Bucko, S.J., Creighton University)
    -PURCHASE: Fr. William Hart McNichols' icons at Trinity Stores
    -Andrei Rublev's Trinity Icon
    -Rublev's Icon of the Holy Trinity (Wellspring)
    -The Holy Trinity : Andrei Rublev. Ca.1410-20.
    -ESSAY : On the Icon of The Holy Trinity painted by St. Andrew Rublev : In light of the Visual Theology of the Cross and of the Circle (Soo-Young Kwon , TheoNet)
    -ESSAY : "Everything: The Circle and the Heart  : The Family in 2001" (Fr. William Hart McNichols, S.J.)
    -INTERVIEW: Know The Score: Julia Holter on Andrei Rublev: The avant-pop musician on how Andrei Tarkovsky‚Äôs dark epic helped to mould her own approach to composing. (thomas Hobbs, 8/15/20, Little White Lies)
    -ESSAY: The Drenching Richness of Andrei Tarkovsky: The Soviet director bestowed a new way of looking at the world. Amid the awe-inspiring imagery, his drift toward nationalist mysticism can take on an ominous tinge. (Alex Ross, February 8, 2021, The New Yorker)