Detectorists, Series 3
Ever Heard of Nan Vernon?

Andrei Rublev

I admit that I approached this film in more or less the same way I would approach reading The Faerie Queen: more (much more) interested in having seen it than in seeing it. There are classics which I think I should read (or hear or view) for their historical significance, but don't really expect to enjoy. This was one of them. 

Five or six years ago (at a guess), it was shown on Turner Classic Movies and I recorded it. Since it's almost three and a half hours long, I didn't want to watch it all in one sitting. So I watched thirty or forty minutes of it, then stopped it. But later when I tried to resume I discovered that the DVR apparently can't handle files that big. I gave up and put the DVD on my Netflix queue. It didn't work its way to the top till several weeks ago.  

In the meantime I had seen Tarkovsky's Stalker, and didn't really like it very much overall, its reputation notwithstanding (see comments here). In that position it joined Solaris, which I had seen maybe ten years ago and also found disappointing--and, to tell the truth, somewhat dull. Also mysterious, but, as with Stalker, not attractive enough to make me want to dig into the mystery. So I was pretty well positioned to conclude that I am not a Tarkovsky fan, and therefore not especially looking forward to three and a half hours of his work. The fact that Andrei Rublev is a loose account of the life of a Russian iconographer of the 14th-15th centuries did not add excitement to the prospect: an edifying but somewhat dull history and/or art lesson, perhaps?

But I was surprised again, in the opposite direction. I had expected to like the others more than I did. I liked this one more than I had expected, and rather more than the others. I don't want to overstate that. I do not love it, and I'm not sure I'll want to see it again, for reasons I'll mention in a moment. But it was rewarding.

It consists of eight separate episodes, and a sort of prologue. I got off to a bit of a bad start with the prologue, and with the first episode; to be more precise, a somewhat baffling start. The prologue involves a group of men trying to launch a hot-air balloon while in imminent danger of some sort of attack. There's no explanation of when or where or why this is happening, though since the balloon seems to be made of animal skins I suppose it is nowhere near modern times. The balloon, carrying one man, finally gets into the air just as the attackers arrive. The passenger has an exciting but short flight. And that's the end of that. In light of the entire film, I conjecture that this is some sort of parable about art and artists, but I don't know.

The movie proper begins with several monks, of whom Andrei Rublev is one, leaving a monastery in dissatisfaction, headed for Moscow where they hope to get work as icon painters. I'm going to describe this next bit as it appeared to me:

The monks are caught in a downpour and ask for shelter in a ramshackle building in which several dozen people are sitting and standing around. They are being amused by a man who leaps around and sings satirical songs about the Boyars. This goes on for a while. Some soldiers arrive on horseback. They enter the building, grab the entertainer, drag him outside, and slam his head into a tree, leaving him either dead or unconscious. They smash a musical instrument which I presume belongs to the entertainer. The soldiers sling the man's limp body over the saddle of a horse and leave.

The first Russian film I ever saw, apart from Potemkin when I was in college, opened with a young boy seeing his father crushed by a falling tree and ended with that same boy, now a man, being brained with an axe. That's about all I remember of it and I don't have any idea what the name of it was. I saw it with a friend and as I recall our opinion of it didn't come to much more than"Well, that was really Russian."

So after the prologue and the first episode I figured--I feared--that I was dealing with a similar work in Andre Rublev. And I did continue to be confused at times by what was going on--who people were, why they were doing what they were doing, and so on. But a coherent picture did take shape around the theme of Rublev's artistic vocation and attains its fullness in the final episode, "The Bell," which is not really about Rublev at all. It involves the very reckless pledge of a teenaged boy to direct the casting of an enormous bell. By "enormous" I mean that the mouth of it is at least ten feet wide. He is the son of a famous bell-maker who has just died, and the boy asserts that his father left with him the secret knowledge essential to the process, and that he will undertake the job himself. It is reckless because he will die a very horrible death if he does not succeed. I'm not going to say how that comes out, of course, in case you haven't seen it. I'll just say that I've sometimes wondered how such feats were accomplished, and that seeing something of how it was (presumably) done was something close to awe-inspiring. 

So: all in all, a fascinating, thought-provoking work from the sort of literary point of view, and moreover, visually impressive, often very beautiful: a rather important aspect of a visual medium, and one in which I thought the other Tarkovsky films I've seen fell considerably short.

I'd like to see it again. And yet, as I said, I'm not sure I will. That's mainly because Episode VI was so hard to watch. It's called "The Raid" and it depicts the pillaging of a town all too convincingly. It was pretty disturbing and I'm not sure I want to go through that again. I suppose I could always skip it. 


Original theatrical poster (from Wikipedia)


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I'm with you on Tarkovsky. A.R. is the only film of his I've liked (although I've been meaning to give Solaris another go at some point).

And I agree with you about "The Raid" sequence -- very disturbing. After seeing it the first time I've skipped it on subsequent viewings, though I think it is important for the narrative's sake to watch it once at least. "The Bell" sequence more that makes up for it though -- that's something of a small masterpiece.

Indeed. I guess I wasn't really won over until that part. I'm also thinking I'll give Solaris another try sometime.

"The Raid," I meant to mention, was not the only segment that included an atrocity. What a cruel and brutal place and time it was--though I suppose not all that different from Europe at the time.

The lady from Broadchurch won Best Actress last night. I would have never watched that if it weren't for all of you discussing it here. Is Broadchurch the right name? Anyway, her name is Olivia Colman, for a movie called The Favourite which I have not seen.

I know nothing about Tarkovsky, but this sounds interesting enough to put in my queue. I just watched The Godfather parts 1 & 2 for the first time in my life this weekend. Some things take a while to get to.

Another interesting thing about the Oscars: 5 out of the last 6 years a Mexican director has won that prize. Looking further, only one American has one Best Director in the 2010s - Damien Chazelle for La La Land (another movie I did not see). Sorry to hijack your post Mac, but it is movie-related stuff. :)

I think I may have not gotten through the prologue the first time I tried to watch AR, or maybe part of the first episode. Maybe I'll try it again, but I don't know. I guess this would be a good time since every book I pick up is about Russia--or Nazis.

I thought Solaris was all right--kind of middling. I also watched The Violin and the Steamroller while poking around Filmstruck on day. It was pretty good, but not very satisfyying. The steamroller doesn't run over the violin, btw. Ha, that sounds like I wanted the violin to get crushed, but, no, I just spent the whole film waiting for it to happen.


Is that Tarkovsky? (the violin one)

I haven't seen The Favourite, either. Hadn't even heard of it, for that matter. But I'm glad Olivia Coleman won.

Speaking of Mexican movies, I watched Roma last night. I don't know if it won any Oscars or not but it was nominated. It's well done but I wasn't exactly enthusiastic about it. Most of it was so low-key as to be dull, to my taste. The same could be said of some of the old European classics that I like a lot, so I guess it's a personal thing--it just didn't grab me.

Yes, the violin was Tarkovsky.


My favourite art movie. I think I have watched it six times now

I'm pretty sure I will never do that.

I guess the surgery went ok, since you're online and able to type?

No I cannot type. It’s all just dictated

Oh. Well, you can talk and think, anyway. :-)

I think you should watch Andrei Rublev five more times and then report back, Mac.

I can't reasonably expect to live long enough to do that.

"Well, you can talk and think, anyway. :-)"

I can talk and type, but I can't think, so I guess that makes us even.

Although, not thinking is probably not as painful as a broken wrist.


As the saying goes, two out of three ain't bad.

Haven't seen it, and only just now read about it, but The Favourite is all about Queen Anne, who is presented as a very active lesbian.

Two minutes of research informs me that...there were rumors, and there's no proof that she wasn't. Good enough for the 21st century!

What mockery the historians of the future are going to direct at us.

I've not seen 'The Favourite', but my understanding is that it has no pretensions to being a "historical drama" presenting anything like an historically accurate portrait of the Queen and her court. It is, I'm told, black farce.

I confess I tried 'Andrei Rublev' and was unable to get through it. I was so disappointed with myself; it was a film I was really hoping to love. I haven't had much fun in Tarkovsky's films generally, but AR was the worst so far.

Fascinating range of reactions to AR.

I don't care for the practice of making a movie about historical persons and then just making up a lot of important stuff, to the point of significantly falsifying the historical record, seems like cheating. And they have a way of sticking. Victoria, the series about that queen, does a little more of that than I would like--e.g. making the relationship between Victoria and Lord Melbourne much more romantic than it almost certainly way.

I agree with you, Mac. If you're going to play fast and loose, play fast and loose with a fictional setting, not an historical one. In the specific case of 'The Favourite', the choice to pick on Queen Anne seems an odd one. But, as I said, I've not seen it.

Andrei Rublev is on its way to the house from Netflix. Unfortunately, I'm leaving town for the weekend so may not be until the end of next week that I will be able to report back my reaction. Your post was successful in catching my interest!

Actually, I don't mind sharing with this group what I am doing this weekend in case anyone has any experience with/in it. I am going to a "Beginning Experience" in Casper, Wyoming. Heard about it in Mass about a month ago, called the guy in charge, and now I am going and hoping for the best. Sounds very promising.

I hope for the best for it, too. I've heard of it but don't know anything about it.

Watched Andrei Rublev and enjoyed it quite a bit. My favorite parts were the scattered theological ruminations, I guess mostly in the scene of the old Greek guy? Not sure, it was so long by the time I got to the end I had forgotten the beginning. Why did it seem like it was filmed in the 30s or 40s? Was Soviet cinema so behind the rest of the world, or was this what the director was trying to do?

I wondered about that too.

My guess is that that really was all the technology he had to work with. I thought that part of the reason for my disappointment with both Solaris and Stalker had to do with the cinematography being sort of on the drab side. Not in terms of composition and so forth but simple image quality.

One thing that puzzled me about AR was that it wasn't close to full-screen. It was very wide but not very tall, with empty space not only above and below the image but on the sides as well. Just a different basic format I guess. That was the case on both my computer and my TV. After trying both I decided it was better on the computer.

On my TV it was just long and thin with lots of space above and below, but none to either side.

I must admit that I am now curious about his other films.

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