Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Andrei Rublev

I just came from watching the first half of Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev. It's over three hours long, so we're going to take it in two parts. It's quite a remarkable film, though somewhat confusing at times. It's more like a series of biographical vignettes than a cohesive whole. It seems that Tarkovsky was attempting to paint a broad spiritual picture of Rublev, rather than providing a precise historical account. The vignettes often don't seem to hold together and a great deal of the story must be picked up after the fact through dialogue.
Tarkovsky, it seems, has a great grasp on the spiritual struggle. His characters are genuine: they allow themselves to drift into areas of grey, then repent and struggle to remain in areas of white. At the same time, they are very aware of and strongly drawn to virtue...and struggle to embrace it, to preserve it, and yet remain humble in it.
Rublev refuses to paint the Last Judgment...he doesn't want to scare people...he doesn't pretend that it's not part of the tradition, he just can't bring himself to paint it. He struggles for two months over it, while his painting crew waits for him to decide what to do. Is this historically accurate? It is a remarkable story, but is it true? This is one of the great problems with impressionistic hagiography. Fictitious accounts of the lives of normal historical figures are considered dishonest, but at the same time they don't (ultimately) matter. Strangely, fictitious accounts of the lives of holy people seem to be more widely accepted (to draw out the "spiritual" meaning of their lives) and yet they are (ultimately) very problematic, especially as we as Orthodox give such weight to hagiography (for both educational and dogmatic purposes).

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