A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Friday, November 6, 2015

Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966)

Attention must be paid, especially to a 205-minute subtitled Russian film about a medieval icon painter that has been called one of the greatest ever made. But it can be hard to do that when you're propped up in bed on a chilly fall night, with the comforter pulled up and two cats asleep on either side of you. So I admit that the temptation to doze off was strong. Yet I resisted, except maybe for a few seconds after which I snapped to. Because Tarkovsky is not a director to be taken lightly, and the moment you begin to be lulled by the magnificence of Vadim Yusov's cinematography or Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov's score, the director is likely to shock you with images of cruelty and brutality but also of beauty that make you sit upright. A "trigger warning" might be especially needed for lovers of animals, given the harshness with which they are occasionally treated: There is a scene with a cow on fire that will likely haunt me for a long time. But all the unpleasantness in the film is in service of a story about the persistence of the Russian people and the transcendence of art. Rublev is played by Anatoliy Solonitsyn, who recalls for me the tormented masculinity you find in some of the performances of Viggo Mortensen. But although he's the title character, he's more of a figure in the tapestry of medieval Russia. Another standout performance is given by Tarkovsky's wife, billed as Irma Raush, as the "holy fool" Durochka, whom Rublev saves from a massacre by the Tatars by killing the assailant -- leading Rublev to atone by giving up his painting and taking a vow of silence. The last section of the film is given over to young Boriska, played by Nikolay Burlyaev, the astonishing Ivan in Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood (1962), who takes on the task of casting a church bell despite the suggestion that he will be murdered by the tyrannical Grand Prince (Yuriy Nazarov) if he fails. Although the film is in black-and-white, it concludes with a breathtaking color sequence in which Rublev's paintings are shown in close-up.  It is, to sum up, a film that asks for patience and fortitude, and rewards it.