Andrei Rublev

Released:  1966

Cast:  Anatoly Solonitsyn, Ivan Lapikov, Nikolai Grinko, Nikolai Sergeyev, Nikolai Burlyayev, Irma Raush

SUMMARY:  This film is divided into eight parts, with a prologue and epilogue.  In the prologue, a makeshift hot air balloon is being constructed next to a church.  Just as a man takes off in the balloon, a group of people, ignorant and afraid of what is happening, attack those remaining on the ground.  The man in the balloon gets away, but crashes shortly thereafter.


Three monks — Andrei (Anatoly Solonitsyn), Daniil (Nikolai Grinko) and Kirill (Ivan Lapikov) — leave their home at the Andronikov Monastery to look for work.  The three men are all painters, who specialize in religious icons.  Daniil taught Andrei, and the two have a deep friendship, but Kirill is a loner.  He is also jealous and manipulative, and is willing to bend the rules to control the situation.  While traveling, the three men stop at a barn where villagers have gathered to watch a jester perform.  The jester makes fun of nearly everybody in a position of power, including the state, Church, Boyars and the monks themselves.  Unnoticed by the others in the barn, Kirill sneaks out and summons soldiers, who beat the jester before taking him away.  The monks then leave the barn and continue on their trip.


Five years later, Kirill meets the great icon painter Theophanes the Greek (Nikolai Sergeyev).  Despite his immense talent and specialization in religious works, Theophanes is critical of religion and does not seem to enjoy it.  He is also short-handed, as all of his assistants have left to watch an execution.  Theophanes eventually asks Kirill to help him paint the Cathedral of the Annunciation in Moscow, but Kirill is hesitant to do so.  He is somewhat angered to learn that Theophanes has heard of Andrei, whose fame as a painter has grown quickly.  Kirill finally strikes a deal with Theophanes:  he will help paint the Cathedral if Theophanes himself will come to the Andronikov Monastery (where he, Daniil and Andrei all live again) and request his assistance.  Kirill then returns to the monastery, but Theophanes never arrives.  Instead, he sends a messenger asking for Andrei’s help, not Kirill’s.  Andrei immediately agrees without consulting anybody else, which angers Daniil.  Though Andrei and Daniil make up before Andrei leaves, Kirill is so furious that he decides to leave the monastery and return to the secular world.


Andrei and his apprentice Foma are taking a break from work and walking in the woods.  Andrei reproaches Foma for his careless behavior and lack of dedication to his craft.  Theophanes joins the two, and sends Foma away in disgust.  Some time later, the three are again in the woods.  Andrei and Theophanes discuss religion as Foma cleans paintbrushes.  Andrei believes that people are good and loving, even in ignorance, but Theophanes believes that the ignorance of Russians is because of stupidity.


A group of men, including Andrei and Foma, are camping near a river for the night.  While out getting firewood, Andrei discovers a group of pagans having a festival.  Though he does not agree with the beliefs of the pagans Andrei finds himself watching raptly.  He does not notice several pagans creeping up on him, and is captured and tied up.  Luckily, he is freed by one of the women before he is harmed, but gets lost in the woods.  He finally makes it back to his camp in the morning, and the group prepares to leave.  As they set off down the river they notice a group of soldiers attacking the pagans.  One of them, the woman who freed Andrei, swims into the river to escape the soldiers.


Andrei and Daniil have been hired to paint a church in the town of Vladimir.  However, they have done little actual work, as Andrei has been unable to find inspiration.  The Bishop wants Andrei to paint the Last Judgment (the return of Jesus Christ), and is irate that no progress has been made.  Andrei cannot bring himself to paint scenes that include people being tortured (being unrepentant on the return of Christ), and is having serious doubts about his ability to do his job.  Foma has finally had enough, and leaves to work on a church of his own.  In addition to the church, men of Andrei’s guild have been working on the new mansion of the Grand Prince.  The Prince is disappointed in the result, and wants it redone, but the craftsmen refuse due to another job (which is actually the mansion of the Grand Prince’s brother).  As they travel they are attacked by soldiers who gouge out their eyes, so they cannot duplicate their work.  When Andrei finds out he is so upset that he throws paint at the wall and smears it around with his hand.  As a rainstorm starts, a woman named Durochka (Irma Raush) — whose name denotes that she is a holy fool — wanders into the church and begins crying at the sight of the smeared paint.


The Grand Prince has left to attend to business elsewhere, and his jealous younger brother sees this as the perfect time to launch an attack on Vladimir, with the help of the Tatars.  The attack is incredibly violent:  townspeople are raped and killed at random, and the city is eventually set on fire.  Foma manages to get out of town, only to be shot in the back by a hidden Tatar archer.  The remaining townspeople take refuge in the church, where Andrei has been painting the scene of a feast.  The Tatars force their way in, kill the people, and destroy the church decorations.  Durochka is grabbed by a Tatar, but Andrei saves her by killing the man with an axe.  The Tatar leader and the Grand Prince’s brother torture a man for the location of the city’s gold, but he refuses to reveal the secret.  Eventually the Tatars leave, and the only people left alive in the church are Andrei and Durochka.  Andrei begins having a conversation with an apparition of Theophanes (who has died), and decides to give up painting and take a vow of silence to atone for killing a man.


Andrei has returned to the Andronikov Monastery and made good on his vow to give up painting and become silent.  Durochka also lives at the monastery, and is the only person Andrei seems to take an interest in.  The people in the surrounding area have been suffering a famine brought on by war, so the monks feed those who show up at the monastery.  One day an older man comes in, and is recognized by one of the monks.  He is Kirill, the former painter who left the monastery in jealousy of Andrei.  He now wants to return to the mastery, but is only allowed to do so under a harsh punishment (copying the Scriptures 15 times).  A group of Tatars stops briefly at the monastery, and despite her earlier encounter at Vladimir, Durochka approaches them.  The Tatar leader takes a liking to her and decides to make her his eighth (and only Russian) wife.  Andrei tries to physically keep her from leaving with the men, out of fear for her safety, but Durochka insists on going.  As they leave Kirill assures Andrei that she will be okay because of her status as a holy fool.


Many years later, the Grand Prince has commissioned a bell in Vladimir.  However, all of the bellmakers have been killed in a recent outbreak of plague.  The only remaining option is Boriska (Nikolai Burlayev), the teenaged son of the most prominent bellmaker.  Desperate to get out of the area, Boriska tells the Prince’s men that his father told him — and no one else — the secret of bellmaking.  With no other choice, Boriska is put in charge of making the bell.  He is in charge of a large group of men who have worked on bells before, and quickly earns their ire and distrust when he insists on doing things his own way.  He frequently ignores their advice and traditions, threatening them when they refuse to obey him.  One of the men working on the bell turns out to be the jester Andrei and Kirill met many years earlier, the one who was beaten and arrested.  This man believes that Andrei turned him over to the soldiers and begins hurling abuse at him.  Finally Kirill stops him, and tells Andrei in private that it was really he (Kirill) who denounced the jester.  He also reveals his extreme jealousy of Andrei, and gives that as the reason he left the monastery.  However, when Andrei stopped painting his jealousy disappeared.  He now tells Andrei that he is wrong to waste such a talent, a gift from God.  Andrei listens, but does not break his silence.  As the bell nears completion Boriska realizes what he’s accomplished — and the danger he is in if the bell does not ring.  The Grand Prince himself attends the ceremony for the first ringing of the bell, and Boriska and the other workers know that if the bell fails, they will be killed.  Durochka also shows up at the ceremony, with a young boy presumed to be her son.  The bell does ring, but Andrei later finds Boriska sobbing uncontrollably.  He reveals that his father never told him the secret of bellmaking — he was operating purely on instinct.  Andrei finally breaks his silence to comfort Boriska, and tells him that they should go back to the monastery together, where both will resume their artwork.

The epilogue consists of scenes of actual works of Andre Rublev.

MY TAKE:  Through the first four or five parts of this movie, I was really bored and not holding out a lot of hope for the rest of the film.  Aside from being incredibly dull, these sections are hard to follow.  There’s big time gaps with very little explanation of what happened in between, so it’s difficult to understand what is going on.  However, I was surprised that I started to get into the film as it kept going.  The later parts are a lot more engrossing, and make sense of some of the other, earlier parts (like the first part, with the jester).  This doesn’t happen to me very often, where I change my opinion of a movie halfway through.  The beginning is still boring, but it was worth watching through to get to the end.  The film does focus more on Andrei’s life than on his painting, and I wish we had seen more of that.  Some of the parts, like the pagan festival, are probably included to show Andrei beginning to question his faith and vocation, but honestly they could have been cut.  It was pretty easy to understand these feelings after the Tatar attack scene.  Speaking of this scene, it’s pretty graphic, since it includes some extreme violence against both humans and animals.  There’s also a scene where Kirill beats his dog as he leaves the monastery that is hard to watch.  Andrei ultimately goes through this big odyssey, where he questions his faith, seemingly loses it, then finds it again.  It is interesting, but I wish it could have been a little more condensed (the movie is 3.5 hours long).  I felt like there were a lot of scenes that were either too long or completely unnecessary to the story.  In fact, with the exception of a few critical scenes, I feel like it could have started with Part VI and conveyed most of the story.

RATING:  Got better as it went along, but a big slow.


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