Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

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Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:15 pm

This analysis will contain spoilers for this film. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend watching it before you read this. Also, see if you can watch the Criterion version.

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Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1966 historical drama Andrei Rublev is a truly great and complex film which gets more interesting every time I watch it as there’s an abundance of info to get out of it. After having watched it several times, I thought I’d share my readings/views on the film and what I make of it. Also, this analysis will go chronologically, meaning I’ll analyze it chapter by chapter.

On a side note, as for the recurring motif of the horses, I’ll discuss my reading of it at the end of this analysis since it appears quite often throughout the film. That way, I can avoid repeating “This is another example of this” over and over again.

Prologue

The opening few minutes show a man named Yefim as he prepares to set of on a hot air balloon ride. As he prepares to embark on it, a crowd suddenly appears and tries to thwart him from taking off, burning one of his assistants with a firebrand in the process. Eventually, he manages to escape from them and soars above the ground for quite some time until he eventually crashes. Although it’s not stated that he dies, this would make sense concerning the themes of this section of the film.

None of the characters in the opening appear anywhere else throughout the film and this scene isn’t brought up at all throughout the film, so this section feels highly out of place at first glance. However, my reading on the opening is that this chapter and the concluding chapter (which I’ll get into at the end of this analysis) serve as bookends to the film. The thing that Yefim, Andrei, and Boriska (the bell maker in the final chapter) all have in common is that they’re visionaries who are trying to overcome overwhelming odds to create something awe-inspiring. The addition of Yefim and Boriska can be read as generations of artists replacing each other. The opening represents the death of an old artist while the ending represents the birth of a new artist (which will be expanded upon later).

What about the group of people who attempt to thwart his efforts though? They’re in this scene, because Yefim represents one of several characters in the film who act as daring escapists who have their hopes crushed. These characters collide with institutions which seem determined to keep them in their place (due to possibly misunderstanding or disliking them). I’ll point out more characters who act as examples of this throughout this analysis.

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I. The Jester (Summer 1400)

Andrei, Daniil, and Kirill have just left Andronikov Monastery and are heading towards Moscow in pursuit of work. Andrei and Daniil are both painters, but Andrei has a great desire to inspire, while Daniil is more withdrawn. Kirill has less talent than the other two, but he still desires to seek fame. Due to a heavy rain storm, the three of them seek shelter in a barn where a group of villagers are being entertained by a skomorokh, someone who earns a living by making fun of the Boyars via social commentary. He’s an enemy of both the state and the church. He also mocks the three monks as they enter. During this, Kirill briefly leaves the barn. Eventually, a group of soldiers enter the barn and take the man outside, knock him unconscious, smash his musical instrument, and take him away. After the rain stops, Kirill returns and the three men continue on.

This scene serves a few purposes. The first, which is the most simple one, is that it introduces us to the brutality throughout the film. Beyond this though, it also acts as the instance which sets off Andrei’s character arc. This is the first of many shocking and disturbing encounters he experiences throughout the film. The effect this has on him will be explored throughout the film once he bears witness to more of them.

Another thing interesting about the brutality here is the way in which it’s shot. The camera is placed inside the barn as the man is beaten outside. It’s important to note that Rublev is still at the start of his character arc as this scene occurs relatively early on in the film. While the camera placement may just be a coincidence, I like how it shows that there’s still a pretty firm distance between Rublev and the violence and mayhem depicted in the film. This stands in stark contrast to a later scene in the film.

In addition, the skomorokh bears a similarity to Yefim in the prologue in the way that he’s another example of an escapist who clashes with a system which serves to keep him at bay. He’s the second character we see in the film who represents this. As where the crowd of people in the prologue were unsuccessful in trying to stop Yefim though, the soldiers in this scene succeed in subduing him, reinforcing this motif to a greater degree this time.

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II. Theophanes the Greek (Summer–Winter–Spring–Summer 1405–1406)

Kirill encounters Theophanes the Greek, a prominent and well-known icon painter. As he does so, a prisoner is being tortured and executed outside of his workshop. After Theophanes expresses his interest in Andrei Rublev, Kirill tells him that Andrei is a good painter, but that he’s better than him. Then, after Theophanes is impressed by Kirill’s conversation, he invites him to help him paint the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow. Kirill agrees, but on the condition that Theophanes comes to the monastery to invite him to paint the cathedral in front of Andrei, Daniil, and the other monks. However, one of Theophanes messengers arrives and invites Andrei to paint the cathedral instead. Daniil refuses to accompany Andrei, and although Andrei doesn’t want to go without him, he ultimately decides to leave. Kirill, jealous of Andrei, yells at the other monks and leaves the monastery.

The torture scene at the start serves to reinforce the brutality of the world. Beyond this though, what’s most significant about this section is that it gives a great deal of insight to the characterization of both Kirill and Theophanes. As for Kirill, this section contains the most insight to his characterization. In it, we learn more about his self-righteousness and jealousy. Despite the fact that he’s less talented than both Andrei and Kirill, he falsely relays to Theophanes that he’s superior in skill. This action reveals how untrustworthy he is and, as he demonstrates at the end with him leaving the monastery, the degree of his jealousy.

As for Theophanes, the fact that he betrays Kirill causes a lot of speculation as to his motives for doing so. Since Theophanes is more intelligent and has much more experience than Kirill does, perhaps he’s able to see through his lies and recognize that he isn’t being genuine. Kirill’s strange request to have Theophanes invite him to work with him in front of the other monks could’ve been his mistake as this may have given Theophanes insight as to Kirill’s actual personality. Ultimately, no clear answer is given to us for this aspect, but implications like these cause this part of the film to be effective.

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III. The Passion (1406)

Andrei, along with his young, new apprentice Foma, set out for Moscow with Theophanes. Foma is also a talented artist, but is less interested in the deeper meaning of his art as much as he is with practical aspects of it, such as his attempt to perfect a color believed to be unstable to mix. Andrei discusses Foma’s faults to him, specifically how he stole honey from a bee garden. Eventually, they encounter Theophanes in the forest. While Foma cleans Andrei’s paint brushes by a stream, Theophanes and Andrei discuss their differing views on religion. As they do so, a reenactment of Jesus’ crucifixion plays out. As it occurs, Andrei expresses his beliefs on what Jesus’ purpose of being born and crucified was.

The conversation which Andrei and Theophanes have shows the main difference between both of their views. Consider this following exchange:

Theophanes: The Day of Judgment is coming. We’ll all burn like candles. Mind my word, it will be hell! People will lump the blame for their sins on one another, will be justifying themselves before the almighty.

Andrei: I don’t understand how you can paint, having thoughts like that.

This exchange of dialogue shows the difference between the views of both men. Since Theophanes is much older than Andrei, he’s seen much of the mayhem/chaos which Andrei has yet to fully experience as of yet. As where Andrei is still optimistic about himself and other people, Theophanes is much more fearing in his views and rather disillusioned with people as he believes that their stupidity is to be blamed for their ignorance. Pretty soon though, Andrei will start to share his thoughts. On a side note, I also like how Foma’s role throughout their conversation is reduced to cleaning Andrei’s supplies as opposed to engaging in conversation with them. It drives home his position as an outsider amongst them (Theophanes is shown mistreating him in this scene).

As for the reenactment of Jesus’ death, I think it’s one of the more emotionally powerful moments of the film. As it goes on, Andrei says “Perhaps he was born and crucified for only one reason: To reconcile God with man.” This is a great line of dialogue as the idea of reconciling opposing elements is what defines Andrei’s character arc from here to the rest of the film. This is going to be explored throughout the film, specifically and more prominently in the second half.

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IV. The Holiday (1408)

Camping for the night by a riverbank, Andrei and Foma are gathering sticks to use as firewood when they encounter a group of naked pagans in the middle of a ritual. Going to investigate it, Andrei is caught and tied to a hut (in a way which mocks Jesus’ crucifixion). They plan to let him go the next morning. He’s then approached by a woman named Marfa, where he voices his disapproval of their acts. Marfa tells him that they’re commonly persecuted for their beliefs and kisses him. Whereas the skomorokh’s beating was shown from a decent distance away, Andrei is thrust right in the center of this one. Andrei then convinces her to untie him so he can escape. The next morning, he makes it back to his group. As they continue downriver, a group of soldiers arrive and chase several pagans, including Marfa, who manages to escape by swimming across the river.

While he initially had a desire to inspire others earlier in the film, this encounter deeply affects him as he’s forced to be right in the middle of this event, one which he completely disapproves of. While he was initially unable to relate to Theophanes views in the prior chapter, this is what puts Andrei in the same plane as him. Andrei has to minister to these people, but since he’s too removed from their values and beliefs, he’s too disconnected from them. The effect this will have on him will be explored in the next section.

In addition to advancing Andrei’s character arc, the pagans in this scene serves as the final example of escapists getting their hopes crushed. The scene with the soldiers arresting several of the pagans at the end of it exists to drive home this point. The effect that the pagans in this section, the skomorokh in chapter one, and Yefim from the prologue give to this film is that they establish the Russian setting as unforgiving in the way that the government silences people from daring and unconventional practices like the ones these characters attempt to carry out throughout the film.

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V. The Last Judgment (Summer 1408)

Andrei and Daniil are working on decorating a church in Vladimir. Despite the fact that they’ve been there for several months though, the walls are still white as Andrei is doubting himself. They’re told they have till Autumn to finish the job. Andrei later confesses to Daniil that he can’t finish the work, because he doesn’t want to terrify people into submission. Meanwhile, Foma resigns due to becoming impatient, leaving Andrei and his group to complete the work. While this goes on, various men from Andrei’s party are working on painting the Grand Prince’s mansion. After they refuse the Grand Prince’s request to do the work over again, this leads to the most gory scene of the film as he orders a group of soldiers to gouge their eyes out to prevent them from doing any more work. Hearing about this, Andrei angrily splatters paint on the walls of the church. Suddenly, a holy fool named Durochka wanders into the church and is upset at the paint smeared over the wall. Seeing this, Andrei decides to paint a feast.

It’s in this section where we learn what the effect the previous events depicted in the film had on him is. Due to what he experienced before this section, he’s in the middle of a crisis of faith. His issue is not on doubting God (which is a common misinterpretation I’ve seen brought up), but on doubting himself and other people. As he says to Daniil, he fears that, by painting The Last Supper, he’ll terrify people into submission. He wants to find a better way to impact them. His internal struggle up to this point is that he’s trying to do whatever he can to continue to walk the path with God despite the actions of various people he encounters throughout his journey constantly hanging on him. That he splatters paint over the church wall after hearing about the fate of his fellow artisans shows that he’s officially through with painting the church walls. He’s furious at the actions of various people around him and he can’t bring himself to paint something like this.

His encounter with Durochka at the end of this section has a major impact on him. She’s a Yurodivy or a holy fool. She’s a sane person who appears to be insane as a personal sacrifice to God. She serves as a good parallel to Marfa, the pagan woman from “The Holiday” as both women serve as a mix between the profane and the sacred. As where Andrei couldn’t relate to Marta or any of the other pagans, he’s inspired by the redemption he finds in Durochka, so that’s what leads him to paint a feast instead.

On a side note, while researching this film, I found one person refer to the scene of Andrei splashing paint on the church wall as creating modern art. Since I’m saddened that I didn’t come up with that joke, would it be alright if you all pretend that I said it? Yeah? Okay, thanks.

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VI. The Raid (Autumn 1408)

The Grand Prince’s brother forms an alliance with a group of Tatars, and together, they raid Vladimir. Many citizens are killed in the process of this. During the raid, Foma narrowly manages to escape the city only to be killed by an archer outside of the city. Multiple Tatars force their way into the church (which is now fully decorated with Andrei’s paintings) and begin to kill more people. In order to save Durochka, Andrei kills a Tatar. The Bishop’s messenger is tortured into revealing the location of the city’s gold, which he refuses to do so. Molten metal from a crucifix is poured into his mouth and he’s dragged away by a horse, leaving Andrei and Durochka as the only two left alive in the church. Andrei then imagines a conversation between the late Theophanes where he laments the loss of his work and the evil of mankind. Andrei decides to give up painting and to never speak ever again to atone for killing a man.

Although I still found the eye gouging scene to be the most disturbing part in the film, this will be the most elaborate and gruesome scene for many people. Throughout it, multiple people are killed, some are thrown to their deaths, a horse falls down a set of stairs, and a man has liquid metal poured into his mouth. Watching this sequence is like someone is like getting hit by a cannonball due to the shocking amount of brutality contained within it. In fact, this effect is similar to the one it has on Andrei.

While the other occurrences throughout the film definitely impact him quite a bit, it’s in this section where he undergoes the most significant change. That he kills someone throughout the raid is what causes him to lose faith in himself at this point. The vow of silence he takes up is carried out because his goal now is to see if he’s still capable of redemption. It’s his sacrifice to God to atone for what he did. Durochka is now all he has left at this point.

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VII. Silence (Winter 1412)

Four years into his vow of silence, Andrei is now back at the Andronikov Monastery. A group of monks are discussing the issues in their hometowns when one monk, who’s recognized as the long absent Kirill, returns and speaks about how he survived the Vladimir raid. He begs to be allowed to return to the monastery. His request is granted, but on the condition that he copies the holy scriptures 15 times in penance. A group of Tatars arrive to the Monastery and one of them decides to make Durochka his eighth wife. Despite Andrei’s attempt to stop her, she’s taken away. Kirill comforts him by saying that the Tatars wouldn’t ever harm a holy fool, but Andrei is clearly broken by her leaving.

One thing I found interesting about the second half of the film while rewatching it for this analysis was how much the events in it correspond to the death of Jesus. While “The Raid” corresponds to Jesus’ crucifixion (or, in the case of this film, Andrei’s spiritual crucifixion), this chapter can be interpreted as his time spent within the tomb. Throughout this chapter, we’re given a glimpse into his life now that he’s taken up the vow of silence. Since he’s unable to stop Durochka from being taken away, this makes this sequence all the more powerful as she was the only person he had left in his life.

I know I don’t have as much insight to say on this section as I do on the others, because I feel like the point of this section is a bit more simple to grasp than the others. Although, I mean the word “simple” in more of a “great point which is clearly communicated” context as opposed to a pejorative way.

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VIII. The Bell (Spring–Summer–Winter–Spring 1423–1424)

Boriska, the son of a bellmaker, is hired to create a bell for the Grand Prince. As he begins making it, he makes several risky decisions with only his instincts to guide him. He soon expresses doubt that he’ll be able to make it. During this, the skomorokh from the start of the film attacks Andrei as he believes he was the one who turned him in years earlier. Kirill intervenes though and later confesses to Andrei that it was he who led to the skomorokh’s arrest years earlier (which is why he left the barn during the rainstorm) and that his jealousy over Andrei’s talent dissipated once he found out that he stopped painting. Kirill pleads for him to continue painting, but gets no response. After the bell is finished, a man tries ringing it and, after a long wait, it’s revealed that the bell works perfectly. Later, Andrei approaches Boriska, who is now crying as he confesses that his father never told him the secret of making bells. Breaking his 16 year vow of silence, Andrei expresses to him his belief that both of them should carry on with their work.

As I said with the prologue, both of these sections act as the bookends to this film. While the prologue showed the death of an old artist, this section continues on with the generation theme conveyed at the beginning by showing how Boriska will replace Andrei. The risky decisions which Boriska makes throughout the construction of the bell exemplify his lack of experience with bell making.

This section also provides the conclusion of Andrei’s character arc. There are several moments throughout the final act where Andrei stares at Boriska during the bell making process (Boriska notices him a few times). It’s almost like he wants to see him succeed in creating it. That he breaks his vow of silence at the end of the film concludes his character arc. The reason he took up his vow of silence was to determine if he was capable of finding redemption. Allowing for Boriska to continue his work was his redemption, and I think Andrei knew that when he spoke with him at the end.

In addition, I loved the characterization of Boriska. He was reminiscent of Don Lope de Aguirre from Aguirre, the Wrath of God in the way that both of these characters had massive ambitions despite the danger of unlikeliness that their plans would actually succeed. Seeing the signs of unprofessionalism which Boriska displays throughout this section adds a lot of suspense to the film as it provides it with the suggestion that his lack of experience might cause the construction of the bell to fail. I was definitely on the edge of my seat during the bell ringing sequence.

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Epilogue

The film suddenly changes from black and white to color as it presents several of Andrei Rublev’s actual icons. Eventually, the classical music which plays over this sequence dies down and is replaced by the sound of a thunderstorm as the icons crossfade into a shot of four horses standing in the rain (also in color).

The images of Rublev’s actual icons may come off as a bit schmaltzy at first glance, but I like to think of them as confirmation that Andrei was successful in convincing Boriska to continue making bells. Therefore, Andrei continued to paint as a result of that. Since there’s a decent amount of ambiguity contained within Andrei’s and Boriska’s conversation at the end over whether he’ll continue making bells, this sequence seems to confirm that Andrei successfully convinced him to continue.

As for the meaning of the final shot, now is a good time to provide my take on the horses which appear throughout the film. As many people here are probably aware of, Tarkovsky said that the horses are a symbol of life. To expand upon this reading, one thing I noticed was that all the poetic shots of the horses were typically out of reach of the main characters. They were often far off in the distance. My reading of this is that the main characters in the film were unable to find life in such a hostile and unforgiving environment. Life was out of their reach.

Before I get to the final shot though, I think there are a couple other notable shots of horses which warrant further analysis. The first of which is the controversial scene of a horse falling down the stairs during “The Raid”. This is a pretty shocking moment as it’s the first time we see significant violence occurring to a horse. It’s important to note that this is the section which has the greatest impact on Andrei’s character arc. While he was struggling with various dilemmas before this section of the film, the fact that we see legitimate harm come to something which acts as a symbol for life shows that he’s now even furthered removed from himself and other people on a far greater level now.

The second shot occurs near the end of the film where we see Durochka and someone much younger than her (presumably her son) walking right next to a horse. Since her fate was ambiguous when she was taken away from Andrei in “Silence”, I think this shot shows that she found a great deal of life and ended up just fine. Since this shot happens when Andrei tries to convince Boriska to continue making bells, her presence could be something which further motivated Andrei to continue doing what he was doing in that moment.

Now, as for the aforementioned final shot, considering that the montage of Rublev’s actual artworks are presented right before it occurs (and keeping my interpretation for that sequence in mind), I think this is an indication that Andrei finally found life in such a cruel environment since he found redemption by convincing Boriska to continue making bells. Like the shots of Rublev’s actual icons, this shot is shown in color to help reinforce this point.

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So, to briefly summarize everything, Andrei is an icon painter looking to achieve fame in Moscow. As he does so, however, his faith in himself and humanity slowly declines due to a number of incidents such as violence and controversial practices he can’t relate to. Finally, after killing someone, he loses faith in himself and decides never to paint or speak again to atone for his sin. After he notices a young bell maker who may potentially become famous, he redeems himself by convincing the boy to continue making bells. He’ll also continue to paint icons in the process. So, in short, he loses his faith only for it to be eventually reawakened.

Anyways, those are my thoughts on this film. If you have any interpretations to various scenes/aspects which I didn’t address, feel free to mention them. Also, if you disagree with anything I said, don’t be hesitant to point it out. I always love reading the feedback I get on these.
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crumbsroom
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by crumbsroom » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:26 pm

I'll eventually get around to reading this but just wanted to state that the prologue in rublev is one of my favorite things in all of cinema

The rest of the fillm doesn't disappoint
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:27 pm

crumbsroom wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:26 pm
I'll eventually get around to reading this but just wanted to state that the prologue in rublev is one of my favorite things in all of cinema

The rest of the fillm doesn't disappoint
Thank you. I'll look forward to reading your thoughts. Also, I definitely agree that the prologue is quite fantastic.
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by topherH » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:46 pm

I didn't get around to upgrading my criterion copy to BR, but I do need to rewatch this. I rewatched Mirror I believe last year and it improved immensely with my understanding.
State of Siege |Gavras, 1972| +
Deadpool |Miller, 2016| +
Z |Gavras, 1969| -
The Confession |Gavras, 1970| +
Missing |Gavras, 1982| +
The Revenant |Inarritu, 2015| +
The Hateful Eight |Tarantino, 2015| +

+ Recommended
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:50 pm

topherH wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 10:46 pm
I didn't get around to upgrading my criterion copy to BR, but I do need to rewatch this. I rewatched Mirror I believe last year and it improved immensely with my understanding.
The Mirror is a film which I've been meaning to rewatch for some time.
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Wed Jul 31, 2019 1:12 pm

good shit. :up: I haven’t seen it recently so I can’t offer a lot of detailed thoughts but it does make the “torment” I feel when trying to make my own art seem incredibly trite and infinitesimal. especially when I’m writing my Full House spec script.

and though I’ve seen hundreds of movies about artists or movies that are a veiled metaphor for the artistic process (and have grown somewhat weary of them), what I find stirring about Andrei Rublev was how it used an artist’s story as a vessel to tell another story about finding one’s own inner grace. and not by embracing some crazed Dionysian energy but through penance and abnegation as a way to cope with the violent cruel world. I don’t think I’m a religious person but I’m often compelled to practice such acts to keep sane. I’ll bet the bell guy has a lot more fun though; at least he’s doing something.
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Oxnard Montalvo » Wed Jul 31, 2019 1:12 pm

also, out of curiosity how many times have you seen this? I’ve seen it twice but I’m sure I’ll revisit it when I’m older if only to see what more it can reveal to me.
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Shieldmaiden » Wed Jul 31, 2019 2:22 pm

Very nice! That's a great read and I love the attention to theme and meaning. There's so much to digest in this one. But here's where I confess I've only seen it once, and it was years ago, so I don't have much else to say. However, you've inspired me to watch it again soon!
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Wed Jul 31, 2019 3:19 pm

Oxnard Montalvo wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 1:12 pm
good shit. :up: I haven’t seen it recently so I can’t offer a lot of detailed thoughts but it does make the “torment” I feel when trying to make my own art seem incredibly trite and infinitesimal. especially when I’m writing my Full House spec script.

and though I’ve seen hundreds of movies about artists or movies that are a veiled metaphor for the artistic process (and have grown somewhat weary of them), what I find stirring about Andrei Rublev was how it used an artist’s story as a vessel to tell another story about finding one’s own inner grace. and not by embracing some crazed Dionysian energy but through penance and abnegation as a way to cope with the violent cruel world. I don’t think I’m a religious person but I’m often compelled to practice such acts to keep sane. I’ll bet the bell guy has a lot more fun though; at least he’s doing something.
Nice observations. And I definitely agree that the arc Rublev goes through is quite impressive. Other movies about struggling artists don't really reach the same level. As for your question, I've seen this at least four times (and I also rewatched certain segments while writing this).
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Re: Andrei Rublev (1966) - Analysis

Post by Popcorn Reviews » Wed Jul 31, 2019 3:21 pm

Shieldmaiden wrote:
Wed Jul 31, 2019 2:22 pm
Very nice! That's a great read and I love the attention to theme and meaning. There's so much to digest in this one. But here's where I confess I've only seen it once, and it was years ago, so I don't have much else to say. However, you've inspired me to watch it again soon!
Thanks for your compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.
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