Several things should be known before tackling Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev, not the least of which is that it’s three hours and 25 minutes long, meaning that this is no trifling investment in time you’re making here. The next thing you should know is that it’s more dressed up as a biopic of the 15th-century painter of the title than it actually is one. And I don’t just mean the facts are either in debate, or wholly made up. Yes, Rublev (Anatoli Solonitsyn) is the main character, but it’s worth noting that he spends long stretches of the film off to the side of the action. If that doesn’t tell you how much this isn’t an artist biopic, perhaps the fact that at no point do you ever see Rublev (or anyone else) paint anything will. What you have instead is a sprawling look at the artist and the times that he lived in—and how those times informed his worldview. Ultimately, it’s a story about sin, guilt and redemption—only in this case, the redemption comes in the form of a reawakening of the main character’s humanity through an event in which he is, at best, tangentially involved. What we have here is a difficult, long, sometimes brutal work that truly justifies the term “epic”—not in the casual, overused sense that has come to mean big and loud—in both vision and execution. But perhaps the major consideration here is that this is a film that should not be judged as it goes. That’s fruitless. Any assessment of Andrei Rublev should be withheld until you’ve seen the entire work.
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