Andrei RublevAndrei Tarkovsky (USSR 1966 + general consideration of Solaris, Mirror, Stalker) Anatoly Solonitsyn
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 18 Sept 2016; ticket: £9:25
A talk with my friend Ana Marton helped to clarify my understanding of what was central to Tarkovsky’s thinking in making Rublev.The key to understanding is surely the relation between the allegorical opening sequence of Andrei Rublev and the main body of the film which although dressed up as an historical drama set in fourteenth century Russia presents a striking analogy of the turbulent destructive forces released by the 1917 revolution that convulsed and tore up the country.The Soviet authorities were sufficiently alarmed by the analogous parallels suggested in Andre Rublev to effectively censor the film in the USSR where it was allowed very few screenings.
The opening sequence, a sort of filmic preface, comprises an attempt made by a man (an individual never identified, a type perhaps) to fly, to be released like a bird in the air. This man uses a sort of balloon technology, and despite the attempt of an alarmed mob to prevent him taking off, succeeds in launching himself from the tower and becoming airborne. “ O my God I’m flying!” he calls out.The flight does not last long, and he quickly crashes back down to the earth.
The man’s flight through the air can be understood, like Daedalus and Icarus’ flights, as an individuated action, a man claiming the power of birds and gods: act of hubris.
The idea of flight has always had a strong spiritual connotation. Tarkovsky seems to be pointing out that ‘flight’ in this context is an individual solution to spiritual problems, employing a leap of faith to claim a domain that cannot be sustained, reliant on technology not on human attributes.
Spiritual life is about acts of faith not leaps of faith.
In contrast Andrei Rublev follows a long tortuous path through social upheaval and war that almost destroys his spirit, before finding his faith in action.Following the preface, the main body of the film,divided into 8 chapters, chronicles Andrei Rublev’s path through history.Unlike flight, with its sudden ecstatic moment Andrei’s journey is in effect a passion ( the film in Russian was also called ‘The passion according to Andrei), in the Christian sense of the word.A series of experiences that challenge his spiritual being, a process of suffering that is a total test of faith.Andrei Rublev’s faith is broken by living in an world characterised by cruelty, violence, bodily afflictions and betrayals.He is reduced to being mute, spiritually exhausted, unable to paint, his faith a hollow kernel without a seed. He is without voice retreating into isolation.
And then comes the bell.The voice of the Bell.The bell has been ordered by a Count.But the wars exterminations epidemics famines have killed or scattered those who knew how to caste bells.The knowledge of how to fashion bells out of the matter found in the earth is lost.But a young boy, son of a dead master bell founder, reveals that his father had taught him the secret of bell making.With this secret knowledge the bell can be made.The whole community come together as one to realise the huge undertaking of casting the bell: retrieving ‘lost’ knowledge, working with energy joy common purpose, sacrificing their individuality to the collective good. The bell becomes a collective statement of spiritual purpose.
The bell is fashioned.Together the people have made a bell whose note will sound out across the land.Together they have made it under the direction of young boy who is barely more than a child.The child as he walks away with Rublev suddenly admits to Rublev that his father had never told him the secrets of bell making; his father had died before he could share his knowledge.His claim to have the secret had been an act of faith.Faith in the forces of life.
At this revelation Andrei Rublev finds the path to the deeper understanding that will enable him to start painting again.He understands faith for him is about allowing his gift to find expression in the world.His refusal to paint had become an indulgence of his subjective need, the break through was to see others needs, to allow his painting to flow out. Faith is realised and put to the proof through action.
Andrei Rublev with its analogous historical referents and its allegorical opening sequence is a spectacle. As film it adds nothing to cinema in itself, a series of images that the viewer watches and may or may not read meaning into. Superbly shot and directed, Andrei Rublev is an epic movie made in the fashion of D W Griffith rather than Sergei Eisenstein.A periodically sequenced realisation of a historic period of Russian history and its people interspersed with the constants of earth water and fire that evoke the underlying perception of a land of faith.This epic quality which points directly to image also characterises Ivan’s Childhood;and it’s a quality that distinguishes Tarkovsky’s two early films from his later productions.
In the three laterfilms produced and shot in the USSR, the difference is in the position in which the viewers find themselves.Ivan and Andrei are linear movies.We are watchers. We watch the progress of the protagonists, reading into the development of the symbolic moving images that deepen our understanding of what is depicted.In Solaris Mirror and Stalker we are ‘see-ers’.The films work by absorbing the viewer in to worlds that are at variance from everyday logic, films that are founded in cinema logic.The films can only be seen if the viewer enters into the psychic world suggested by the form structure and content of each of these films.
Solaris Mirror Stalker demand of the viewer that they recalibrate state of mind as they move into the world of the film.The pacing of the films, allows for mediation of this process which works dynamically with the audience who have to engage by defining and understanding for themselves the aqueous world in which they are submerged.Aqueous because in all of Tarkovsky’s movies water/fluid is a key medium whether it be: still stagnant down pouring flowing renewing reflecting refracting. Water/fluid is ubiquitous, both in picture and sound, omnipresent like time which also is a focal concern of Tarkovsky’s.Time always a mirror reflecting back image.Time also an idea which in these three last films made in Russia was the basis for Tarkovsky’s personal political critique of dialectical materialism as a dead-end Soviet theory that insisted on ‘history’ as a didactic linear time scale. Tarkovsky’s explores time as a fluid experience, an envelope of Einsteinian space/time which wraps traps zaps us in waves and vectors of psycho/spiritual entanglement.Time as human dimension not a mechanism.
Mirror with its layered time structure probing personal history and a Nietschian eternal recurrence. Solaris with its temporal instabilities inducing the past to return to the present. Stalker with its zone containing spacio/temporal distortion and room of desire.Tarkovsky creates worlds that have to entered by specific psychological portals an entering that involves a surrender to the logic of the film.
It is Tarkovsky’s achievement as producer/director that he had the courage of his personal and political vision to refuse compromise with Goskino and instead to produce a series of films completely radical in their use of the medium to do what cinema rarely does: create a new concept of what is possible.