Andrei Tarkovsky on...

Andrei Rublov

The quotes below are from The Tolstoy Complex, edited by Dr. Seweryn Kuśmierczyk at the Polish Literature Department of Warsaw University. The excerpts are reproduced here with the kind permission of the editor. The original translators' names, if applicable, are shown in square brackets following the references. English (re)translation by Jan at Several of these interviews were given during the early stages of production and they provide a glimpse into the screenwriters' original concept of Andrei Rublov and its history (the elimination of the Kulikovo Field battle prologue, for example).

I want to make a film about Andrei Rublov, the great 15th century Russian painter. I'm interested in the connections between creator's personality and his times. Thanks to the inborn subtlety a painter is able to comprehend the deepest meaning of the times he lives in and to present this meaning fully. This will be neither a historical nor a biographical film. I'm fascinated by the process of the painter's artistic maturing and by the process of analysing his talent. Andrei Rublov's work marks the apex of the Russian Renaissance. Rublov is one of the most outstanding figures in history of our culture. His life and art contain an unusual wealth of material.

Before we began our work on the screenplay we studied historical documents and sketches, mainly in order to decide what we won't be able to show in the film. For example, we are interested in the style of the epoch only to a limited degree: the costumes, the scenery, the language. Historical details should not distract viewer's attention just in order to convince him that film's action is really taking place in the 15th century. Neutral interior decoration, neutral (although proper!) costumes, landscapes, modern language — all this will help us to talk only about what's most important.

The film will consist of several episodes which won't be directly logically connected. But they will connect internally through a common train of thought. We do not know yet whether the novellas will follow chronologically one another. We want the episode dramaturgy to be consistent with their inner implications for the evolution of Rublov's personality during the birth of the idea for the magnificent icon of the Trinity. At the same time we want to avoid all the traditional dramaturgy with its canonical restrictions and its logical and formal pattern. They are the typical obstacles making it impossible to express the fullness and the complexity of life. [...]

Films about artists are sometimes made like this: the hero observes some event, then the audience watches him pondering, finally he expresses his thoughts in his works. In no scene of our film we are going to see Rublov painting icons. He will be simply leading his life, he won't even be present in all episodes. We shall devote the last part of the film — which we intend to film in colour — to Rublov's icons. We are going to show them in great detail, as in a documentary. Every icon's appearance will be accompanied by the same musical theme which sounded during the scenes from Rublov's life corresponding to the period of the emergence of the idea for the icon. This structure of the film is necessitated by its goal: we would like to present the dialectic of human character and investigate his spirit's life.

Interview Begegnung mit Andrej Tarkowskij with Gideon Bachman in Filmkritik 1962 (12), pp. 548–552 [Pol. trans. Adam Sewen]

We are writing with Andrei Konchalovsky a screenplay titled The Passion According to Andrei. The film will be about the life of the great Russian painter Andrei Rublov. Some of my friends are wondering how it will be possible to make the transition from a film about childhood destroyed by war, in all respects a modern film, to "antiquity," to Russian Middle Ages. I cannot see anything peculiar about it. The subject matter merely dictates the type of fabric used. While drawing upon material from the 15th century I intend to talk about present-day problems. I'm interested in the ties between the artist and his epoch, his people. I'd like to voice my own opinion about the power of art.

Rublov celebrated the great ideals of humanity in his works. The idea of brotherhood, the unity of the human family will be the most important one for the film. Truly great art becomes more and more precious as time goes by. How many people's thoughts, emotions, and hopes must have impregnated Rublov's paintings over the centuries! I would like to transport those hopes to the screen.

The film will consist of fifteen novellas. The action is centred around three characters: Rublov, Danil Chorny, and Kirill. We are allowing ourselves to interrupt the narrative chain several times although poetic structure will be retained throughout. For years cinema has depended upon dramaturgy of theatre, now cinematic art is getting closer to poetry. I can see a very close relationship between explorations in poetry and those of modern cinema. I like using allegories, metaphors, and similes. I like seemingly impossible confrontations. Confronting subjects which appear to escape cognizance stirs up within me deepest thoughts filled with images. More and more films are being made based on the logic of poetic image. In my new film I am going to make substantial use of the figurative system of classical Russian poetry.

Interview Projets d'Andre Tarkowski with Galina Bakhkirova in Oeuvres et Opinions 1963 (3), pp. 157–159 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski]

The idea of the film has occurred already during my work on Ivan's Childhood and I admit the idea wasn't mine. We were strolling through a forest on the outskirts of Moscow once: myself, Konchalovsky, and the film actor Vasil Livanov... Just then Livanov proposed that the three of us should write a screenplay about Rublov and he mentioned he would really love to play the main role. But later the circumstances prevented Livanov from joining us in writing the screenplay. In the meantime we found ourselves unable to give up the project which enraptured us completely, we were progressing quite fast: after one year (a little over) we had three screenplay variants ready. We had to go over and study a multitude of various sources concerning the epoch, at least in order to leave aside old established notions.

During our work on the last version of the screenplay we still had a feeling certain parts weren't quite right. But when we finished I could feel the screenplay was a success. A success because I felt a good film could be made from it. I haven't got a lot of experience as a screenwriter — before Rublov I had only worked on two other screenplays — and although I am not yet satisfied with all the details, the impression of consistence, coherence, suggests it's a fine work. A fine work as a screenplay for precisely the kind of film I intend to make. Although I'm counting on the contributions by the actors, the locations, and the cameraman, the screenplay contains a leading theme which guided us through our work. Naturally, I'm still going to add certain scenes, others will be removed. The foundation, however, is settled...

In answer to the question "what do I want to say in this film" one can only provide a broad outline... I am not going to say anything directly about the bond between art and people, this is obvious in general and, I hope, it's obvious in the screenplay. I would only like to examine the nature of beauty, make the viewer aware that beauty grows from tragedy, misfortune, like from a seed. My film certainly will not be a story about the beautiful and somewhat patriarchal Rus, my wish is to show how it was possible that the bright, astonishing art appeared as a "continuation" of the nightmares of slavery, ignorance, illiteracy. I'd like to find these mutual dependencies, to follow birth of this art and only under those circumstances I'd consider the film a success. I'd like to mention here the paintings of Omar Haijam, you remember them — a rose bush with worms gnawing at its root? But it was death from which immortality arose and when we understand immortality, we'll understand death. Black and white in a kind of a tangle... Such periodicity together with the objective and dialectical manner of understanding life, plus the manner of illustration we intend to employ are the basis of our conception of the film.

We selected locations together with the cameraman Vadim Yusov with whom I had already worked on Ivan's Childhood. While we continued our work on the screenplay he managed to make another film, I Step Through Moscow.

It should be noted that the film's historical aspect requires big scenes with lots of people in them which creates quite a few difficulties. For example, we cannot do without the battle of the Kulikovo Field which became the symbol of Russia's realisation for the first time of her moral superiority over the foreign invaders. This period of Russia's formation is unthinkable without Dmitry Donsky's victory. An episode which is complicated to realise but simply impossible to do without.* Just as it is impossible to do without the Tatar assault of Vladimir (in which they were aided by a Russian prince — an individual symbol of betrayal and venality) or the episodes of casting a new bell. None of these scenes allow a small-scale solution and they require complicated preparations.

Interview Andrzej Tarkowski — o filmie "Rublow" with Artur Ciwilko in Ekran 1965 (12), p. 11

A biographical film? No, this film does not belong to the genre as no chapters of anybody's biography are being re-enacted on screen. It wasn't my intent to reconstruct Rublov's life but, as I mentioned before, I'm interested mainly in the human being and also the atmosphere of the years past. But this doesn't mean it's a historical picture. In my opinion historical accuracy does not mean historical reconstruction of events; the important thing for what we want to show is that it should possess all attributes of plausability. So-called "historical films" are frequently too decorative and theatrical. It was my conscious decision to avoid all exoticism. People nowadays that nobody could play Rublov better than him. After the screen test I became convinced try to view everything in ordinary perspective, including the past! [...]

With Solonitsyn I simply got lucky. In the beginning I knew only that I couldn't give this role to any known actor. I realised it would have to be a face with great expressive power in which one could see a demoniacal single-mindedness. Solonitsyn, besides having the required physical appearance, is a great interpreter of complex psychological processes.

Interview Hüsség a vállalt eszméhez with Jozsef Veress in Filmvilág 1969 (10), pp. 12–14 [Pol. trans. Barbara Wiechno]

The actor in the title role had to be a man never before seen in film. To play Rublov whom everybody imagines differently one could not take a person reminding us of his other roles. That's why we selected an actor from a theater is Sverdlovsk who had until then only played small episodes. Solonitsyn, having read the screenplay published in the monthly "Iskusstvo Kino" travelled to Mosfilm at his own expense and declared that nobody could play Rublov better than him. After the screen test I became convinced that he was indeed the best for the role. [...]

Nobody has ever cut anything from Andrei Rublov. Nobody except me. I made some cuts myself. In the first version the film was 3 hours 20 minutes long. In the second — 3 hours 15 minutes. I shortened the final version to 3 hours 6 minutes. I am convinced the latest version is the best, the most successful. And I only cut certain overly long scenes. The viewer doesn't even notice their absence. The cuts have in no way changed neither the subject matter nor what was for us important in the film. In other words, we removed overly long scenes which had no significance.

We shortened certain scenes of brutality in order to induce psychological shock in viewers, as opposed to a mere unpleasant impression which would only destroy our intent. All my friends and colleagues who during long discussions were advising me to make those cuts turned out right in the end. It took me some time to understand it. At first I got the impression they were attempting to pressure my creative individuality. Later I understood that this final version of the film more than fulfils my requirements for it. And I do not regret at all that the film has been shortened to its present length. [...]

Unless one is as sensitive to colour harmony as a painter, one does not notice colours in everyday life. For example, for me cinematic reality exists in the tones of black and white. Yet in Rublov we were to relate life and reality on the one hand with art and painting on the other. This connection between the final colour sequence and the black and white film was for us a way to express the co-dependence of Rublov's art and his life. In other words: on the one hand everyday life, rational and realistically presented, and on the other — conventionalised artistic summary of his life, its next stage, its logical continuation. It's impossible to show Andrei Rublov's magnificent icons in such a short time, so we tried to create an impression of totality of his work by showing selected details and guiding the viewer past a sequence of detailed fragments towards the highest of Rublov's creations, to the full shot of his famous "Trinity." We wanted to bring the viewer to this work through a kind of dramaturgy of colour, asking him to move from certain fragments towards the whole, creating an impressionistic flow. The colour finale, about 250 metres of film, was necessary to give the viewer some rest. We didn't want to let the viewer leave the cinema right after the final scenes shot in monochrome. He should be given time to detach himself from Rublov's life and to reflect. What we meant was that by looking at the colours and listening to the music we imposed on him, the viewer could draw several conclusions of a general nature from the entire film and sort out its main threads in his mind. In short — not to let the viewer put the book down right away. I think if Rublov had ended immediately following the "Bell" episode it would have been an unsuccessful film. We needed to keep the viewer in the cinema at all cost. It was necessary to add some type of continuation of the artist's life to show how great he was, the fact of his living through all those, the worst, experiences and that it is from them that certain colours in his paintings can be derived. All these thoughts had to be transmitted to the viewer.

I'd like to point out the film ends with an image of horses in rain. It is a symbolic image as horse for me is a synonym of life. When I'm looking at a horse I have a feeling I'm in direct contact with the essence of life itself. Perhaps it's because horse is a very beautiful animal, friendly to man, and is moreover so characteristic of the Russian landscape. There are many scenes with horses in Rublov. Take the scene in which a man dies after an unsuccessful attempt to fly. A sad-looking horse is a silent witness to the scene. The presence of horses in the last, final scene means that life itself was the source of all of Rublov's art.

Interview L'artiste dans l'ancienne Russe et dans l'URSS nouvelle (Entretien avec Andrei Tarkovsky) with Michel Ciment and Luda & Jean Schnitzer in Positif Oct. 1969 (109), pp. 1–13 [Pol. trans. Zygmunt Kwiatkowski and Adam Horoszczak]

Exercising the authors' prerogative we decided to force Andrei to take a vow of silence. But that doesn't mean we agree with him. On the contrary, in subsequent episodes we attempt to convince the viewer that Andrei's silence makes no sense — it's pointless in the face of events that follow and which our hero will be unable to respond to as an artist, he won't be able to join in. His silence had a very broad, abstract, and even symbolic meaning to us. In the episode in which Andrei is silent, events of fundamental importance to the meaning of the film take place.

There is a character of a mad village woman, blazhennaya, who suddenly leaves with the Tatars. She simply liked one of them and she went with him. Only an insane person could see in the invaders something bright and joyful. Through her madness we wanted to underscore the absurdity of the situation — no sane person would have done this. But Andrei should have reacted and not allow this offence to his charge's honour (in the old Rus a blazhennyi was thought of as holy; to insult a blazhennyi, yurodivyi, was considerd a great sin back then). Yet he doesn't react, he took the vow and he cannot utter a single word. Andrei does not stand up for another person but he cannot defend himself either. Skomorokh played by Rolan Bykov thinks it was Andrei who denounced him to the guards — because he saw him among the people watching him dance and sing frivolous, biting songs about a boyar. Many years later, having returned from exile where he was beaten and where he went through a lot of suffering, the skomorokh in front of the crowd accuses Rublov of betrayal. Rublov cannot clear himself and prove his innocence — he is after all a mute. They summon him to paint the walls of the cathedral of the Holy Trinity, and again he is silent. He has shut himself off, has buried his talent, he lives like a madman. Everything is the wrong way up. Rublov does not act the way a normal human being should act, he also does not do what any proud citizen who loves his nation should do. Only Boriska through the force of his faith, through his conviction and emotion shown when he works on the bell, rouses Andrei from his silence. The power, the beloved power of human creativity, perseverance, and faith in one's destiny forces Rublov to break the sinful vow.

Interview Strasti po Andreyu with Aleksandr Lipikov. Conducted on 1 February 1967, published in Literaturnoye Obozrenye 1988 (9), pp. 74–80 [Pol. trans. Seweryn Kuśmierczyk]

* Tamara Ogorodnikova who was the film's production manager had this to say about the prologue when interviewed by Maya Turovskaya for her book "7 ½:

"The picture required a lot of money which we had no access to. The first estimate we put together was for 1,600,000 roubles, then for 1,400,000, then they cut another 200,000 from it. [...] They told us we could begin if we gave up an episode, the first one for example, the Kulikovo battle. It just happened to cost — more or less — 200,000. «If you agree to throw it out from the script, we'll approve it.» We thought about it and thought about it, we discussed it: and what else could we do? — and Andrei Arsenevich agreed. But it wasn't enough just to agree, they told us: «Put it in writing.» So it came down to giving them a written receipt promising we would stay within one million roubles limit, throwing out the Kulikovo battle. They let us proceed after that."

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