One of the benefits of doing this project is that you get to see how different films tackle the same or similar subject matter. A while ago I saw Age of the Medici by Rossellini. I wouldn't call it my favorite of the Criterion Collection. Now I come to Andrei Rublev by Andrei Trakovsky. The two projects cover similar subject matter and time periods. Medici was about the city of Florence in the 15th Century as it became a base for the Renaissance and the Humanist movement. Andrei Rublev is about the 15th Century Russian religious painter of the same name. Like Age of the Medici, Andre Rublev has a strong theme of the human spirit and how artistic expression is vital to that spirit. Unlike Medici, which had some strengths but some obvious flaws, Andrei Rublev was fascinating from beginning to end. This movie has a beating human herat at it's center.
This is the longest single film in the Criterion Collection I've reviewed so far yet every minutes held my attention. The story starts with a man taking a hot air balloon ride in the 15th Century. This is a wild and incredible sequence. It has nothing to do with the plot but it expresses the theme of man escaping from the boundaries set by society. The film then follows the career of Andrei Rublev one of Russia's great religious painters. He rises to prominence and expresses a very humanist view of the bible and the role art should play in people's lives. His faith is shattered when an army sacks the city's he's in. He becomes a recluse but finally is inspired by a young bell maker to return to art.
As I said this film isn't just about ideas it's about people. Early on Andrei and his fellow monks come upon a jester entertaining the peasants with a bawdy song, a frenetic tune that sounds almost modern. But the man is soon arrested by soldiers after being denounced by Kiril one of Andrei's fellow monks. Kiril is a fascinating character. His jealousy of Andrei leads him to abandon the monastery. Years later after confessing all of his misdeeds Kiril still smirks when Andrei remains silent. Another fantastic is Boriska the young bell maker who sets out to create a magnificent bell despite a lack of experience. At first he is obsessive, driven and arrogant. But as the project nears completion he shrinks. Finally he breaks down in Andrei's arms. He had been faking his knowledge of the craft all this time. Even his success can't wash away all the tension he's felt up until that moment. It's a wonderful scene.
Andrei Rublev is also alive visually. It's black and white but some of the images are stunning in their detail. Grass, branches and sea plants are seen through water. The attack on the city of Vladimir is horrific. There's a pagan ritual in the woods where dozens of naked people dash out into the river holding torches. The whole film is a visual feast to go along with its incredible characters and powerful ideas. It's alive in a way Age of the Medici isn't.
This film is a must see for young directors. Writers should be warned that the story is a little too episodic. But the fine characters, especially Kiril and Boriska are worth studying.