Not a Movie Snob - Andrei Rublev

Posted on Thursday, September 23, 2010 at 05:00 PM

"Ever wonder how to cast a bell?"

Andrei Rublev (1966)

Banned and seized by the government upon initial release, then released both here an abroad in butchered, edited cuts. Like most controversial films from a different age, the things that were originally so offensive to some people about this movie are really quite tame in our desensitized day and age.

Andrei Rublev is a challenging film though. Challenging in its length (the uncut Criterion version runs at a whopping 205 mins), and challenging in its story. I won't pretend to have understood everything in the movie, but I don't think this film wants or needs you to understand all of it. I think it's just a series of snapshots from a man's life, told in motion, in a very visually poetic style and probably somewhat dramatized for effect in places. Like a miniseries shown all at once.

It isn't all hard to follow though. For most of it, it's easy to follow what's happening, it's just not always clear why. Like I said though, complete understanding isn't necessary all the time, I mean think about it: This is a Russian film about Icon painters and monks and takes place in the early 1400's. I can't think of much I know less about.

That being said, I actually found the film to be a very easy three and a half hour watch. The aforementioned visual beauty of the direction and cinematography gives you something amazing to look at almost all the time. And the story is usually very interesting. I won't say it doesn't have its slow spots or scenes that are a little trying with how long they drag on, but a scene in which some people attack a church both has a very Kurosawa feel and is just plain impressive on its own merit, with hundreds of extras sometimes in a single shot. There's also a scene at the end of the film (which doesn't have a lot to do with Rublev), which is so amazingly done and fascinating it makes sense the whole film seems to build towards it:

Men come to a village in search of a bell caster to cast a bell for the Prince for a new chapel, the bell caster's have all died of the plague and only a boy in his teens is left. The boy convinces the men to let him cast the bell, claiming to have been given the 'secret to bell casting.' They reluctantly agree to let him helm the task, which is such an undertaking it nearly kills him, and the scene when the bell is finally done and everyone's about to see if it will ring is suspenseful and tense, as the Prince will kill all involved, including the boy, if it fails to ring.

The making of the bell is an amazing sequence and seems like a larger than life task to film, but it is done with complete realism and skill.

I can't recommend this movie to everyone because it's long, in Russian, in black and white and sometimes hard to follow, but it's also a great artistic achievement and a more entertaining experience than you might think.

Then again, you could just rent it and skip to the bell casting scene. That's okay too.

Rating: ****



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