I dug my heels into an evening with Tarkovsky. A white mug of Earl Grey tea, cooled down with vanilla almond milk accompanied me as I delved into Tarkovsky’s Soviet censored epic, Andrei Rublev. The film, based on the eponymous painter of Russian Orthodox frescoes and icons, was a meditative eulogy on the artist and the political and religious struggles of 15th century Russia. An attempt at an authentic and realistic portrayal of Russia in the 1400’s, Tarkovsky’s Rublev deliberates on the life of the painter through eight chapters, a prologue, and an epilogue. Perhaps a series of long vignettes, each one a soliloquy imbued with myriad monologues, Rublev’s journey from traveling monk to a self-defeated artist under a vow of silence is an odyssey against the backdrop of the violent scenery of an unforgiving Russia. A prolonged and detailed Tatar raid against the town of Vladimir singes into the mind unforgettable images of cows set ablaze and speared horses–violence and injury between and against animals are a recurring theme, one that submits a single eye’s attention.
Tarkovsky isn’t as concerned with the truth-telling of Rublev’s life, but the ruminations of a devout man in an oppressive world. It is not only the tyrants’ oppression that Rublev succumbs to, but the artists’ self-doubt and one man’s conscience before his god. A meditation on unsuccessful attempts at humanity’s repentance and the lingering fight against impurity, Andrei Rublev represents humankind’s unrelenting failures and habitual moral perseverance.
Tarkovksy’s epilogue is the only color sequence, a bejeweled survey of Rublev’s religious scenes. Reds and azures glow while film composer Ovchinnikov’s ecclesial Rachmaninoffian choir swells and ebbs the “ah” vowel over his dramatic symphony. It is the shocking final page in one of film’s greatest novels.