Generally acknowledged as the finest of Andrei Tarkovsky's seven features, Andrei Rublev presents a turbulent period in Russia's history through a series of vignettes, mostly extrapolated from the life of its title character, an icon painter.

The dominant theme of the film, the visionary artist's struggle to transcend the conditions of his time and place - be it the medieval Russia of Rublev or the Cold War Soviet Russia of Tarkovsky himself - is established immediately as, in a masterful opening sequence, a man takes to the sky via balloons before rudely crashing back down to earth.

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While the pacing of the film is deliberate and the presentation frequently abtruse, the stunning compositions, elaborate camera movements, compelling performances and beautiful black-and-white cinematography - bursting into colour at the film's climax, a stunning montage of Rublev's icon paintings - provide ample reward, if you are willing to make the effort.

Tarkovsky's practices make Ingmar Bergman - a director he admired, imitated and, some would say, transcended - look like a lightweight. The film valourises the visionary artist and his ability to see beyond the social-historical context and regard things sub specie aeterna.

Yet, at the same time, this is tempered by an implicit self-critical endorsement of the holy fool's faith over the intellectual's reason and a paradoxical use of symbols - the elements, trees, plants and so on - coupled with a dismissal of symbolism as a facile, lazy approach.

Ultimately, Andrei Rublev comes across as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, as if the director refused to make concessions on the grounds that to compromise his art was to cheapen and debase it. Personally, I'd take it.

Reviewed on: 28 Feb 2002
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Biopic tracing the life of the Russian painter.
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Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

Writer: Andrei Tarkovsky, Andrei Mikhalkov-Konchalovksy

Starring: Yuri Nazarov

Year: 1966

Runtime: 185 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Russia

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