Monday, November 24, 2008

Currently Watching: Andrei Rublev (1966)

I love Andrei Tarkovsky.  I've now seen three of his films, and I can't think of many directors who challenge me so much with such an acute perception of cinema (and also occasionally challenges me to stay awake).  I was floored by "The Mirror," at the time I saw it I couldn't really believe its poetry and I had a hard time sleeping that night because I kept thinking about its camera movement and its slow evolution.  Then I saw "Solaris" about 3 times in different parts before I sat down and watched the whole damn thing over the summer one afternoon.  I had previously slopped praise on Godard for turning sci-fi into a gritty noir, but Tarkovsky managed to turn the genre into a delirious and intense metaphysical search completely separate from and yet accompanying precisely Kubrick's vision in 2001 - if Kubrick is searching for our life, Tarkovsky muddles in our death and the separate entities of our soul and body.

So it was with great enthusiasm I put in his supposed masterpiece that's been succumbed to about 5 different versions based on various censors and distributors; I watched Criterion's restoration of the original 205 minute version.  Yikes.  What struck me instantly was that "Andrei Rublev" is about an iconographer, but it's in black and white.  Okay.  So we're distilling beautiful imagery back into a basic composition.  But Tarkovsky goes a step further, doing MANY sequences in one or two shots with a powerful roving camera.  I actually think any cinematographer who wants to do crappy steadicam and poor handheld should watch this movie and get a sense of how to properly use camera movements.  There's virtually no plot in the movie, but it still encompasses one man's crisis of faith, the religious and political turmoil, and the entire societal hierarchy of 15th century Russia.

On the surface, "Rublev" is a plodding, tedious, and often very pretentious film.  But that's to ignore the entire point of Tarkovsky's cinema; he's looking at how to bend traditions in ways almost opposite of the French.  He's using VERY limited resources to construct a VERY complex and multilayered story.  For the ways he uses space, time, and structure to build not only a history but a *tone*, a genuine feeling of historicity and analysis, "Rublev" is a genuinely stunning film.  It's haunting.  If it weren't so long I'd love to watch it again very soon and see how my opinion of it changes.

I won't lie and say I wasn't bored by it, but part of any Tarkovsky is asking - can you get to the point?  Why are you doing this?  Only by being an active participant, by immersing yourself in what he's giving you, can you really appreciate the fact that he's an artist.  I'll go ahead and do another Kubrick comparison - about a month and a half ago I finally saw "Barry Lyndon" and was mildly disappointed by it, mainly because it was one of the first times I've really felt his perfectionist construction got in the way of his narrative - painfully so.  Yes, "Barry Lyndon" is beautiful, but WHY is Kubrick using the same technique over and over and over again?  In "Andrei Rublev," I felt almost the same way, but the film was much more dynamic in its aesthetic and more deliberate in its structure, allowing complex issues to be explored and confronted in almost contradictory ways.  This visual and narrative contradiction helps drive the film and use its aesthetic in creative, enabling ways.  This makes it, at the very least, NECESSARY cinema, if not a complete masterwork.

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