The Passion According to Andrei:
An Unpublished Interview with Andrei Tarkovsky
The following interview with Andrei Tarkovsky was conducted by Aleksandr Lipkov on February 1, 1967.
It originally appeared in Literaturnoe obozrenie 1988: 74–80 (see
the first page in Russian here).
It is published here for the first time in English.
Translation copyright by Robert Bird (University of Chicago, Slavic Languages and Literatures).
When I am asked: "How did you approach the historical theme
in your film; what were your ideas of a historical film;
what conception of history did you profess?" I become
uncomfortable. I don't want to divide cinema up into genres
for it has so merged with viewer experience that, like this
experience, it cannot be fragmented. The meaning of cinema
and its colossal popularity is based on the fact that the
viewer approaches it in search of his own un-accumulated
experience, so to speak. I am not speaking of inexperience
in life, but of the fact that our age offers one such a
large amount of information and people are so busy that they
do not have time sometimes even to find out what is
surrounding them on a day-to-day basis. Cinema's task is to
substitute for this lacking experience. It stands before
the very serious and profound task of speaking truthfully
and sincerely, never deceiving the viewer. And if this
viewer goes to see even wholly commercial films, this
doesn't mean that he likes them. Perhaps he doesn't even
know himself what draws him to the cinema. I think that he
is drawn by the need for knowledge, the desire to hear
questions that arise for his contemporaries, and the
aspiration to participate in the solving of problems which
he has no time for in life.
As far as our film is concerned, as contemporary artist we
naturally made the film about issues that relate to us as
I don't know a single artist, regardless of whether he
paints canvasses or makes films, writes poetry or casts
sculpture, who would aspire only to restore the past and
remain within the limits of historiography. Take
Shakespeare, Pushkin, or Tolstoy. All of them were
concerned with wholly contemporary issues when they wrote
about Julius Caesar, Boris Godunov, or the war of 1812. The
same goes for us. Of course we collected material, read
sources and historical and historiographical works, based
ourselves on chronicles, on the studies of art historians
dedicated to Rublev and his contemporaries, and on
everything that we could read about the epoch. And yet we
were concerned with other issues.
The first is the role of the artist in society. We wanted
the viewer to leave the film with the idea that the artist
is society's conscience as its most sensitive organ who is
most perceptive to what occurs around it. A great artist is
able to make masterpieces because he is capable of seeing
others clearer and to perceive the world with joy or
exaggerated pain. For us Rublev was such an artist.
One might think that the scope of his art and its influence
on those around him were quite limited. One might think
that, living in the time he was fated to live in, he could
see nothing but tragedy. This was a tough and
blood-drenched epoch for Rus, which had not yet coalesced as
a nation and was gripped by internecine conflict and
suffered annual raids by the Tatars. One might think that
Rublev had nothing to lean on in his environment in order to
create any radiant images. And yet he did not carry the
terrifying images of his time over onto his boards. As if
in protest, in opposition to what surrounded him and to the
reigning political atmosphere in Rus, in literally all of
his works this artist bore forth the idea of brotherhood,
cooperation, and mutual love. He incarnates the ethical
ideal of his time.
I know no great work of art in all of world culture that
would not be linked to an ethical ideal, that is based on
some other motives such as on the dark aspects of life.
There some talented works of such a nature, but no
Q: What about Picasso's Guernica?
A: I will address that. An artist's oeuvre is always composed
of various works, especially for such a tireless seeker as
Picasso, who has painted hundreds or even thousands of
sheets and pages. He never stops at what he has achieved,
although he has always spoken of the same things. Compare
him to Tolstoy, let's say, with his most profound work
War and Peace: here you will see on one hand a
furious protest against everything dark in life, and on the
other hand an affirmation of joy, love for man, faith in him
and in the power of his soul, in the ability of his reason
to work out the most complex problems, and a readiness to
stand firm in the face of severe examination. This is only
natural. Life is varied, it is composed of contrasting
planes, and by focusing on only one of them an artist will
illuminate it one-sidedly, failing to give his word, the
screen or the painted canvas a complete image of the world
and to comprehend the true profundity of phenomena.
Take for example Raphael's Sistine Madonna. She is
beautiful and humane precisely because of the tragic plot
that lies at her base. A plot that is commonly known and is
taken from the Gospels: Mary must sacrifice her son to
people. But the artist humanized the Mother of God;
although from the religious point of view she was not even a
person, in a certain sense, he depicts her precisely as a
person. The power of the work's effect is due to the fact
that Mary is afraid and suffers in the face of events which
await her son. She knows that everything is foreordained,
that the infant was born for torments, and that she is
obliged to give him up, but on her face one reads not only
fear but also a question for people and hope that what is
foreordained will not occur. This precise balance between
preordination and hope is what creates that deeply human
image, which is turned towards us and raises the work to the
height of a masterpiece.
One may cite a multitude of other examples. All of Chaplin
is based on the tragic content of plots in which a small and
cowed man, abused by the capitalist city, tries in some way
to preserve himself and to oppose to the oppressive
circumstances: his individuality, some kind of craftiness,
or complexity of character. In a word, the essence of
Chaplin's character, borne by the artist through numerous
pictures, is the combination of a profoundly tragic content
and comic form, which is disarmingly humane, full of love
for people, goodness, and sympathy.
I think that by concealing the shadowy aspects of life it is
impossible to reveal deeply and fully what is beautiful in
life. All the processes occurring in the world are born
from the battle between old and new, between what has died
and what is accumulating strength for life. And the cinema,
like any other art, is mostly interested in this process:
life in its movement. All great works are based on this.
Rublev is a genius because his work is oriented towards the
future: in difficult times, when the nation could only dream
of a life without war, without violence, and of the most
elementary happiness and calm, when it was not allowed even
to open its mouth to cry out in protest, precisely at this
time Rublev created his Trinity, all of which cries
out, thirsts goodness, calm, and harmony in people's
We wanted to show that Andrei Rublev's art was a
protest against the order that reigned at that time, against
the blood, the betrayal, the oppression. Living at a
terrifying time, he eventually arrives at the necessity of
creating and carries through all of his life the idea of
brotherhood, love for peace, a radiant worldview, and the
idea of Rus's unification in the face of the Tatar yoke. We
found it extremely important, both from the historical and
the contemporary viewpoints, to express these thoughts.
Unfortunately we succeeded in relating only a
portion of what has been written about the epoch in
historical sources. It was so blood-drenched that literally
every page of the chronicles and of historical studies tells
us about betrayal, desertion, treason, blood, arson, Tatar
raids, destruction, death and so on and so forth. In our
picture we were able to show not even half of that for our
story was also about a lot of other things and it is
necessary to preserve a certain proportion in order to avoid
distorting the truth. Our historical consultants who read
the screenplay did not find any departures from the
The recreated epoch interested us not only in our
search for an answer to the question concerning the meaning
of true art. Our Andrei Rublev passes through the narrative
not as the main protagonist. For us he provided the
occasion and ground for speaking about what is most
important: the spiritual and ethical power of the Russian
nation which, even in a state of absolute oppression, proved
itself capable of creating hugely spiritual values.
Confirmation of this is given both by Andrei Rublev and by
the architects who are blinded on the prince's order, and
the young craftsman Boriska who casts a bell at the end of
our picture. We set ourselves the task of seeing and
revealing the sources of the Russian nation's indestructible
creative energy in that distant epoch, of its strength, and
therefore also of our authorial faith in this strength. And
at the same time we wanted in a way to tell our viewers
about themselves, so to speak, to knock on their door and
tell them: "Each of you is capable of a moral labor," to
awaken in them the desire to create — in the broadest
meaning of this word. It is not necessary to paint icons or
cast bells (after all our film is historical, and is
therefore to some degree a trope), but, for example, to
build homes or do some other necessary work.
We made our picture with the greatest love for the
people whose stories we were telling. It was they who bore
on their shoulders the future of our culture and of all our
As an example of a man from the people who incarnates the
principle of creativity we drew the bell-founder Boriska,
played by Nikolai Burliaev. His vivacity, his
self-confidence, his unshakeable desire to work, to create
almost to the point of emaciation, until exhaustion knocks
him from his feet and makes him fall asleep literally right
there in the mud and clay, all of this makes him a kind of
harbinger of great historical events. For us this was
practically a young Peter the Great (naturally on a very
limited scale) who will awaken Russia, shake it to its
foundations, and change its face.
Another important problem of the picture is the so-called
vow of silence which Andrei Rublev gives in response to the
terrifying events of surrounding life.
We, the authors of the film, make Andrei fall silent. But
that doesn't mean that we share his position. On the
contrary, the subsequent episodes were intended to persuade
the viewer that Rublev's vow of silence was ridiculous and
insignificant in the face of impending events, which Andrei
as an artist is no longer able to respond to in any way, in
which he is incapable of interfering in. For us this
silence is filled with the broadest, most abstract, and even
symbolic meaning. The very episode during which he is
silent sees the main events connected to the denouement.
The film has a character of the village idiot girl, the
blessed girl [blazhennaia], who suddenly departs
with the Tatars. She simply takes a liking to one of them
and takes off with him. Only a madman at that time could
see something radiant and joyful in these conquerors. And
the fact that she is retarded was intended to underscore the
ridiculous nature of the situation: no normal man could have
acted in this fashion. And Andrei should have interfered
and prevented his ward from being harmed (after all in Rus
the blessed were revered as saints: harming a blessed one or
holy fool [iurodivyi] was at that time
horribly sinful), but he doesn't interfere; he gave his vow
and cannot say a word. Andrei not only fails to step in for
his neighbor, but is even incapable of standing up for
himself. The jester [skomorokh], played by Rolan Bykov,
thinks that Andrei was the one who denounced him to the
guards because he noticed Andrei among the spectators for
whom he danced and sang those rather frivolous but socially
risqué songs about a boyar. And much
later, after returning from exile, beaten and having
suffered many torments, the buffoon accuses Rublev of
betrayal amongst a crowd of people, and he can't defend
himself and explain his innocence; he is mute. People come
to him and call him to paint the walls of the Trinity
Cathedral, but again he is silent. He is shut up in
himself, has buried his talent in the ground, and behaves
like a madman. Everything is upside-down. Rublev not only
acts in a manner unbecoming to a normal man, but also in a
manner unbecoming to an honest man who loves his nation, to
a citizen. And it is only Boriska who, with the force of
his conviction, with his faith, the obsession with which he
puts all of himself into the casting of the bell, wakes
Andrei from his silence. The strength, the visible strength
of human creativity, resilience, and faith in one's calling
makes Rublev break his sinful vow.
In this manner we wanted to express the human ideas that our
own day needs. We tried never to depart from facts in our
depiction of Russia as she was in that epoch, but at the
same time to illuminate what we depicted with a new
ideological attitude. Naturally we understand that the
reality was somewhat different, that we do not command
sufficient knowledge to reconstruct everything as it
actually was in history, and that if we suddenly got such an
opportunity then the ideas which emerge from our story would
not be the same. But as contemporary artists we consider
ourselves empowered to express our own view of Rublev and
his time and to tell of our own issues. We wanted the
protagonist's character and the atmosphere of his epoch to
express our demands from contemporary artists, our faith in
the Russian nation, and our belief in its creative power.
It seemed extremely important to speak of this today.
In your view, how is it possible to reconcile the
historical truth with the tendentiousness of contemporary
There is no need to reconcile them. It will work out in any
case, even if you only set yourself the task of
reconstructing reality on the basis of historical materials.
Artists are tendentious and are obliged to be so. Whether
they want to be so or not, they are tendentious. If they
speak up on something they are already expressing some kind
of opinion, some kind of attitude.
In the film we are speaking about Andrei's character, about
the meaning of his art, and about his perception of his
surroundings. And no historiographer can tell us that
things were different. After all nothing is known about
this. Violence against the material is not only admissible,
but even necessary. Any events which the artist describes
will always be deformed according to the ideas he
To what extent did you concern yourself with the precise
reconstruction of everyday objects and cultural
We shot our film in Vladimir, Suzdal', on the Nerl river, in
Pskov, Izborsk, Pechery, and among architectural monuments
from that era of the fourteenth-fifteenth centuries. But at
the same time we always tried to avoid a museum-like
attitude towards history. That is to say we did not seek to
present these architectural monuments in any special way, we
treated them in the manner in which, if we were shooting a
film about modern life, we would treat regular buildings
like those on the street. It was the same way with everyday
objects; we wanted to avoid treating them as props or
something exotic; we wanted the objects of material culture
to be perceived from the screen just as the things that
surround us in daily life are perceived. In this respect
everything in the film is absolutely precise. The main
thing for us was always the events themselves, the people
that acted in them, and the characters of these people.
One could probably say the same about the language of the
Yes, about the language, about the montage, and about our
working method with actors: everything was in this way. We
wanted to make a picture that would be comprehensible to the
modern viewer without departing from the truth, without
resorting to some special plastic expressivity that
underscores the theme's historicism and raises the story
onto the "buskins of eternity," which removes the
protagonists from the real earth. In this respect
Eisenstein's historical films, for example, demonstrate the
opposite tendency. In his films if he shows a chair, for
example, then it looks like a palace. He plays on it as if
it was the most unique relic from the Kremlin Armoury. We
thought that such an attitude distracts viewers and obscures
his perception of what is most important, while we tried to
concentrate all attention on the problems, on the psychology
of actions, and on human characters. We wanted the screen
to provide, so to speak, a chronicle of the fifteenth
century, to make the distance in time as unnoticeable and as
shortened as possible. We tried not to shock and not to
surprise, but to make the viewer feel all of it as flesh of
the flesh, blood of the blood of Russia.
But the cruelty in the film is shown precisely to shock
and stun the viewers. And this may even repel them.
No, I don't agree. This does not hinder viewer perception.
Moreover we did all this quite sensitively. I can name
films that show much more cruel things, compared to which
ours looks quite modest. True, we showed this aspect of
life in concentrated fashion, but at the same time with
reserve. Moreover, as I have said, the time was so cruel
that in this manner, increasing the tension in individual
parts, we were able to preserve the necessary balance
between the dark and light aspects of the time, a balance
that was required by our fidelity to historical truth.
God, look at the chronicles. At that very same time in the
fifteenth century Dmitrii, the prince of Smolensk, started
eying the wife of one of his neighboring princes. Note that
there were no social reasons for hostility, he simply
"coveted his neighbor's wife." So what did he do? He
attacked his neighbor, killed him, burnt his lands, sacked
the city, killed a mass of people, and captured the prince's
wife. However, despite her reputation as a somewhat
frivolous woman, she refused to go to him. Then he ordered
her quartered on the square and thrown into the river Tver'.
And our chronicles are filled with such events. One can't
simply be silent about it. Otherwise we would violate the
truth of history.
I know why you mention this. It's all because of those
rumors... We didn't burn the cow: she was
covered in asbestos. And we took the horse from the
slaughterhouse. If we didn't kill her that day, she would
have been killed the next day in the same way. We did not
think up any special torments, so to speak, for the
When The Battleship Potemkin was released Eisenstein
was accused of all manner of things. They couldn't forgive
him the maggots in the meat, the woman's runny eye, or the
invalid who jumps around on his stumps, nor the famous pram
that rolls down the staircase. It's easy to say now: "Oh,
Potemkin!" But what didn't the
director have to put up with at the time? Talk to people
who witnessed all of this. They can tell you more. It's
always the same, this isn't the first time. We are judged
not by what we did or wanted to do, but we are judged by
people who don't want to understand the work as a whole or
even to look at it. Instead they isolate individual
fragments and details, clutching to them and trying to prove
that there is some special, main point in them. This is
delirium, it's metaphysics that has nothing to do with an
analysis of the work. And this occurs not only with respect
to my picture. You see the same thing left and right. I
want you to keep that in the interview.
Compare it to a mosaic. You can stick your nose into some
fragment, beat it with your fist, and yell: "Why is it black
here? It shouldn't be black here! I don't like looking at
black!" But you have to look at a mosaic from afar and on
the whole, and if you change one color the whole thing falls
Too often we judge things by the details. We criticize a
work, taking some detail out of it, not wanting to
understand the function it performs in the whole. If we
didn't say anything about the cruelty of the epoch I am sure
that the novella about the bell would never have attained
such power, and the music and Rublev's painting that is shot
in color would not sound the same. Only here, together with
the last shot, perhaps, does the general idea of the film
develop. Unless we take pains about the separate details
without contemplating the functional significance they have
for the whole, we are not artists. And critics who judge us
in this way are not critics. As far as the general idea of
the film is concerned, I do not doubt it for an instant and
am totally convinced that I am right, as is everyone else in
fact. But we are pecked at for trifles...
How do you view other directors who have worked in the
genre of historical films? Eisenstein in particular.
It is difficult for me to speak about him because I am
afraid of being misunderstood. Beyond a doubt, I consider
Eisenstein a great director and regard him highly. I really
love Strike, The Battleship Potemkin,
and The Old and the New, but I cannot accept his historical
pictures. I think they are unusually theatrical.
Incidentally, Dovzhenko spoke exhaustively about this;
perhaps they had some kind of problem with each other.
Major artists often have sharp conflicts amongst themselves,
but in any case his words "A daytime opera" seem correct.
Because everything is flimsy. Cinema should capture life in
the forms in which it exists and use images of life itself.
It is the most realistic art form in terms of form. The
form in which the cinematic shot exists should be a
reflection of the forms of real life. The director has only
to choose the moments he will capture and to construct a
whole out of them.
In other words, cinema cannot adopt the degree of
convention that Eisenstein used in
Ivan the Terrible?
It should not, in my view. Moreover I have
information that in the last days of his life Eisenstein
himself arrived at completely different positions on this
matter, which he mentions in one of his letters. The point
is that the mis-en-scene, which up to that point had been
conventional in his films and expressed some general idea,
was supposed to stop being like this. It was supposed to be
a finished slice of life, and not to be subordinated to some
exterior dramaturgy that always shows the viewer the ceiling
against which he keeps hitting his head, and in the best
case the viewer sees no further than the idea he is
assigned. He feels as if he's in a good theatre, but
doesn't see life in what is shown to him on the screen.
Let's take Alexander Nevsky for example.
There is the scene of the battle on ice, which is edited
perfectly like the entire film. But Eisenstein ignored the
truth of the instant and the truth of the very life he was
filming. The characters wave their swords in a fake and
forced manner, slowly and ridiculously. You can see it is
staged, and staged badly. And all of it is edited in a
particular rhythm to create the rhythm of the battle which
the director needs. This lack of correspondence fragments
the episode into disconnected parts. Moreover there are
these wooden ice-floes which break up in a swimming pool
according to an obviously intentional pattern. It's
impossible to watch. Cinema is an absolute art that cannot
bear falsity in its movement. Therefore the film falls
apart. The inner rhythm of its shots does not agree with
the principle of montage. No matter how wonderful
Prokofiev's music is, no matter how masterfully Eisenstein
edited it, it doesn't save the picture. In the artistic
sense I consider it a failure.
Did you use anything from Eisenstein's work on historical
No, nothing. Moreover, we wanted to do everything
differently. If the action of Eisenstein's films occurs in
a kind of sterile, museum-like, almost artificial
environment, we wanted the characters in our film to breathe
the same air as today's viewers, so that the events of the
film were life itself, so that all of it was not spectacle,
but human experience.
Of course, Eisenstein uttered profound ideas in his
pictures. But we would like to work in a totally different
manner than Eisenstein with respect to plastics. That's
just natural. No self-respecting artist would adopt an
alien creative conception. One should have one's own.
And how do you feel about historical costume thrillers
such as Cleopatra?
What can I say about that? That's a commercial spectacle
intended to impress the imagination of simple people. And
Cleopatra, I understand, was a
fiasco. Viewers are no longer interested in such
Historical pictures must not be staged as costume dramas.
That's a mistake. Take, for example,
The Tale of Tsar Sultan, although that's a somewhat different
genre, a fairy-tale . Everything there is fake,
bad theatre, tasteless. It's so monstrous that it's not
even worth talking about this film. But one could make such
a grandiose film of it!
Which other directors in the area of historical film
appears most significant to you?
I love Kurosawa, although I don't like his Throne of Blood,
for example. I think he copied
Shakespeare's plot in a superficial manner and transferred
it to Japanese history, without really succeeding.
Shakespeare's Macbeth is much more profound,
both in the character of its protagonist and in the tragedy
that penetrates the action. I love
The Seven Samurai and Sanjuro. Remarkable
pictures. Remarkable director. One of the best in the
world, what can I say.
Your opinion of Throne of Blood surprises me.
It has some remarkable scenes. For instance the beginning,
where the protagonists are lost in the fog, is shot
incredibly. But the finale didn't impress me at all. The
arrow that penetrates his throat is badly done. You can see
it's glued on from both sides. It ruins the impression.
Cinema doesn't permit any such faults. But I still love
Kurosawa a lot: in the historical genre he has achieved more
What in your opinion is Kurosawa's greatest achievement?
The main thing is his modern characters, modern problems,
and the modern method of studying life. That's
self-evident. He never set himself the task of copying the
life of samurai of a certain historical period. One
perceives his Middle Ages without any exoticism. He is such
a profound artist, he shows such psychological connections,
such a development of characters and plot-lines, such a
vision of the world, that his narrative about the Middle
Ages constantly makes you think about today's world. You
feel that you somehow already know all of this. It's the
principle of recognition. That's the greatest quality of
art according to Aristotle. When you recognize something
personal in the work, something sacred, you experience joy.
Kurosawa is also interesting for his social analysis of
history. If you compare The Seven Samurai
and The Magnificent Seven, which
share the same plot, it is especially visible. Kurosawa's
historicism is based on characters. Moreover these are not
conventional characters, but ones which issue from the
circumstances of the protagonists' life. Each samurai has
his own individual fate, although each possesses nothing
except the ability to use a sword; and, not wanting to do
anything else because of his pride, each finds himself
serving peasants to defend them from the enemy. There is a
text of pure genius at the end of the film, remember, over
the grave, when they plant rice: samurai come and go, but
the nation remains. That's the idea. They are like the
wind, blown this way and that. Only the peasants remain on
But The Magnificent Seven is a typical western with
everything that issues therefrom. The director remained
totally within the framework of the genre. Why is Kurosawa
so good? Because he doesn't belong to any genre. The
historical genre? No, this is more likely resurrected
history, convincingly true, not bearing any relation to the
canons of the "historical genre." On the contrary, in
The Magnificent Seven everything is based on the
canons which it is impossible to break. Everything is known
ahead of time. The viewer knows ahead of time what is
supposed to happen, but he watches because it is all
performed so brilliantly according to the generic and
stylistic canons of the western. This isn't art. This is a
commercial enterprise. No matter what good ideas are placed
therein, it's all fake, false, ridiculous. It seems sort of
the same thing: the same peasants, just as kind, the want to
bury the Indian, etc. But what a sense of discomfort! It's
all a stretch, accidental, it's a laugh.
What do you think about the relationship between the
individual personality and history in a historical film?
That was a very important question for us. We want the main
protagonist of our film to be the events and the people, the
nation in its mass. We didn't even want to separate out
Rublev as an individual on whom the course of events
Usually in historical pictures there is always some active
character: a tsar, a general, etc., whose will determines
the course of events, who introduces some reforms, in other
words, who makes history. I think this is the coattails of
a tradition that was formed under Stalin. I can't explain
it any other way. Of course the role of the individual in
history cannot be denied. The influence it exerts on the
destiny of the epoch is very significant. But to explain
everything by the actions of tsars and supermen is, in my
view, an anti-historical approach. In any case, I'm glad
that we were able to make do without any such moralizer,
without a character with a raised index finger, without the
creator of fates who makes history according to his whim.
Even great people are led by events, by history.
In this light what do you think of a film like
Peter the Great? 
I don't remember it very well. It was some kind of
gigantomania, there some something inhuman in the character.
On the contrary, the figure of Chapaev was resolved in a
manner of genius. Just think, a man who doesn't even know
what the International is, who conflicts with his commissar,
who declares that a commander shouldn't ride ahead on a
warrior horse but should remain behind his detachment and
should die fighting only in his underwear! Everything seems
backwards compared to the ideal cinema protagonist. And
only because of this do we see him as a normal, everyday
man; he becomes immortal in our eyes. Chapaev, as played by
Babochkin, was a totally unique phenomenon .
Of course, all praise is due to the
Vasiliev brothers who edited down the material of an
enormous two-part film into a normal-length film, but the
result is like a diamond where every facet contrasts with
another, giving birth to a character.
It's so grandiose! That's what a real historical picture
is! And, by the way, remember how many obstacles
Chapaev had to overcome, how much
discussion there was: "how is that possible?" "why show
that?". [It was necessary to show this] precisely because
its hero is a man and therefore immortal.
For some reason it is thought that historical personages
should be placed onto buskins. I don't know why. We, in
any case, tried to make our characters understandable to our
viewers, to make them as close as possible to the current
day, not in the content of events, not in their actions, but
in their psychology, in their interrelations. They even
speak the contemporary language.
That thundering sound during the finale with shots of
icons: is that a jet plane? Is that also a way of making
the story more modern?
No, you're wrong. It's just thunder, normal thunder. You
may have felt that, but we did not try for that. In general
I can't bear any interpretations, any "fingers hidden the
pocket"; that's the worst thing possible. That's not art.
I reject that out of hand, I swear! But if it seems
similar, then what can you do? It really is similar. But
there's no "finger" here. In this respect we cleansed the
screenplay with all possible diligence, and if we found
anything that could be interpreted as a hint at some
contemporary situations we purged it mercilessly. The only
thing that was important to us was to express our idea, our
view of the nation, of the era, of people, of art. We
didn't want any deviation from the historiography. Even
without that the limits were sufficiently broad to express
everything we needed to.
Are you planning to continue your work in the realm of
Right now I don't have any such desire. Not now, but after
a couple of pictures, I would like to shoot the
Life of Archpriest Avvakum .
He's a colossal figure. Fascinating.
Moreover you don't have to write any screenplay. It's
enough to take the Life and make the
picture according to it. He's a remarkable character,
deeply Russian, the character of an indestructible man. A
story where man triumphs. A tragedy equal in strength to
Aeschylus. The death of the protagonist engenders within us
the feeling, we understand how great this figure was, how
grandiose the power of the human spirit can be. This
concerns me. I would like to do this.
What are the two films you would like to do first?
One plan I am keeping in secret, but the other is
Solaris based on Stanislaw Lem.
A science-fiction film; that's also a kind of historical
film, only oriented towards the future, not the past.
Yes, and we know as little about the future as we do about
But we try to guess ahead of time.
Just the same as when we try to reconstruct in historical
films the way things were, and we have just as little chance
of success as with predicting the future. But that's not
important, that's of secondary importance, the main thing is
the ideas which we express.
If a fifteenth-century man watched
Rublev he would probably be terribly confused and wouldn't recognize
anything. It could not be otherwise. After all we are
speaking of art. That's what distinguishes it from
And what if people will watch
Rublev in the year 2200.
How will the viewer approach the film then?
Well. We tried in 1966 to make a picture as close as
possible to history, as accurate as possible in terms of
costumes and other such accessories of the age, with the
sole exception of the dialogue. What year did you say?
2200? I hope that intelligent and educated people will live
then, they will understand that this is a work of art, and
will not make the kind of demands that we are subjected to
Historical films often rest on some literary source. In
this case the director faces the task of double
interpretation: of the literary work, and of the historical
I think our task in making our film on Rublev
was simplified precisely due to the lack of any firm
information about our protagonist. His character, his
personality are so mysterious, obscure, and encoded, that we
were able to construct our story freely, to imagine Rublev's
biography without fear of complicating our relationships
with historians and art historians. They can't prove to us
their objections to our depiction of Andrei. And, by
contrast, if the facts of his life were known in detail, no
one would forgive us the violation of historical truth.
To what degree, in your view, does the artist have a
right to make things up?
The artist has a right to any fiction; that's why he's an
artist. He does not misrepresent his depiction as the truth
of life. He battles only for the truth of the problem and
the truth of the conclusions which he presents. And the
fact that art is based on fiction is proven loudly by its
entire history, from its very sources...
It's easy to make things up with regard to Rublev's
epoch. But what about the events, for example, of the
Second World War?
It's still the same. Perhaps the artist even has it
slightly easier here. In order to make things up, you have
to know what you are rejecting. You absolutely must know
this. You can't say: "Well, I'm going to shoot a film about
the Archpriest Avvakum, although I know nothing about him or
his time." Nothing will come of this. The more we know, the
more are our opportunities. But the artist has the right to
reject something and change something. He has the right to
his own interpretation of events in the name of the task he
has set himself.
What do you think about Pasolini's
Gospel according to Matthew? That's also a kind of
Of course. I like the picture. I like it precisely because
its director did not succumb to the temptation of
interpreting the Bible. The Bible has been interpreted for
two thousand years and no one can reach unanimous agreement.
So Pasolini did not set himself this task, he just left the
thing in the form in which it was born. Many feel that the
image of a militant cruel Christ was made up by the author
of the film. Not true! Read the Gospels and you will see
that this was a cruel, cantankerous, irreconcilable man.
Moreover with what genius was it written! On the one hand
he's God and the Church has been relying on him for two
thousand years, but he succumbs to doubt in the garden of
Gethsemane. What could be simpler than to call for help
from his father and avoid dying on the cross, but he doesn't
do this. He is all back-to-front...
Would it be possible to film
Hamlet in the same way, avoiding the temptation of interpreting the source?
This is a more serious matter. I have long dreamed of doing
a production of Hamlet and I hope to stage it
someday in the theatre and maybe in the cinema.
The thing is that Hamlet does not need
interpretation. It is necessary, I think, simply to read
what Shakespeare said. And insofar as he spoke of
absolutely eternal problems which are always of principal
importance, Hamlet can be staged according to
Shakespeare's design, in any age. Such miracles sometimes
occur with works. The artist sometimes achieves such a
profound insight into events, characters and human
conflicts, that even centuries later what he wrote has
enormous significance. Only no one knows how to read
What about Kozintsev's? 
I don't like it.
No again. They both try to modernize
Hamlet in some way.
Peter Brook? I mean the theatrical staging.
No, I don't like his either.
You mean there has never been a
Yes, in my view, there never has been the
Hamlet that Shakespeare wrote. Perhaps there was in the
Elizabethan age, when he personally participated in the
Globe theatre. Maybe...
Hamlet shouldn't be interpreted; it shouldn't be
stretched onto some contemporary problems like a shirt which
rips at the seams, and even if it doesn't rip it hangs as if
on a clothes hanger, absolutely formlessly. There are
enough ideas there which remain immortal to this day. One
only has to learn to read them...
All of this is really complicated when you deal with such
canonical figures... You see, there are two
kinds of screen adaptation. The first is when you use
classical works, masterpieces, which are so saturated with
meaning for millions of years ahead, for ever, unto the ages
and ages, so that it's necessary only to communicate them.
By the means which exist. Cinema exists, so you can do it
by means of cinema as well. And if no one has succeeded in
filming Shakespeare as he wrote, it is still necessary to do
But then there are pieces which merely give the director or
screenwriter an impulse, material which they can use to
speak with their own voice and express their own ideas.
Incidentally Shakespeare himself, for example, wrote about
Julius Caesar something different than what corresponds to
history, to the works of Plutarch and Suetonius. He wrote
as he saw fit. He said whatever he thought about this
issue. And this path is not so bad, by the way.
If a book is merely material to help you express your ideas,
then you can't avoid using contemporary issues, otherwise
you are not an artist, otherwise your film will be popular
science, historiography, without artistic merit. And if you
are adapting an immortal work you need a completely
They say that great works like
Hamlet need a new reading for each generation.
With respect to Hamlet that is not correct.
But history shows that's the way it has been.
Yes, thus it has been, unfortunately. But Shakespeare wrote
a significantly more profound work than the performances
which we have seen, which we know. For how many years, for
how many decades was Hamlet portrayed as a languid youth
with long hair and a black tunic with puff sleeves, in a
camisole with a golden chain! But it is known for sure that
Shakespeare envisioned a completely different,
thirty-year-old man suffering from shortness of breath. To
think that era was closer to Shakespeare than our own. But
they acted the role as they liked. It was a fashion.
As soon as Hamlet becomes such a languid prince, everything
is lost. Shakespeare's Hamlet is dead...
I would do it completely differently, and the scenery would
be different. But that's not important. It's my decision
as a director how to shoot it. But the characters and the
idea of the piece should be preserved by all means because
they are absolutely immortal. The idea of Hamlet
is the conflict of a man of the future with the present.
He overtook his era intellectually but was obliged to live
amongst his physical contemporaries. He continually
reflects. Why? What's the problem? What's the main
The main issue is his inability to act. Perhaps he is
unsure of everything or he thinks he's weak? Nothing of the
sort. Hamlet understands perfectly well that the conflict
is insoluble. This is why he says, "To be or not to be?"
The conflict is insoluble, whether he interferes in it or
not. Hamlet sees the pointlessness of conflict in advance.
He is fated. And as soon as he begins to act he perishes
for himself as well. Imagine by what means he has to fight
in this world! What a "mousetrap" this must be! What a
duel! In other words he adopts the position of his enemy.
He should fight with their weapons in the same base manner
as they do. And the result is inevitable death. Because it
is impossible to change anything. Hamlet has overtaken his
own time by many years. He understands the world he lives
in and that only the future times, to which he belongs
spiritually, will be capable of changing anything.
How can man act upon time? Or is he helpless?
No, he is obliged to act. Hamlet decides correctly. He
must act even though he understands he will perish. He will
perish like Giordano Bruno, like many revolutionaries and
defenders of ideas. After all Hamlet fights for an idea.
He can't become a vulgar townsman and accept everything that
surrounds him, although he knows that he is doomed. Hence
the greatness of his spirit and his genius.
Hamlet hesitates because he cannot triumph. How should he
be? What can he do? He can't do anything. This will
always be the way. But he must still say his word...
And the result is a pile of corpses. And four
captains carry him out. This is the meaning of
Hamlet, not "to be or not to be," "to live or
die." Nonsense! It has nothing to do with life and death.
It has to do with the life of the human spirit, about the
ability or inability to become acclimatized, about the
responsibility of a great man and intellect before
Man must still act! Hamlet acts although he knows he is
incapable of breaking this world, this castle. In the best
case he will himself become its king. It could be done in
this way! And then the piece would be understandable for
Progress exists. But there is a man who has overtaken
progress. He has come from afar, has studied for a long
time, and has not participated in all the internecine
conflicts. He is a member of the intelligentsia, of the
highest class. Only Russians can understand what that
means. Do you know what is said about the intelligentsia in
the famous Britannica Encyclopedia? There are two sections:
the intelligentsia, and the Russian intelligentsia. And we
have already forgotten about that.
How do you understand that?
The Russian intelligentsia was always extremely active and
independent. It was never in the service of the princes of
this world, it defended truth, sought, moved forward.
"Intelligentsia" is a Russian word. The members of the
intelligentsia suffered privations in the name of its ideas,
underwent repressions, and were considered idealists.
Recall the social-democrats: Belinsky, Dobroliubov, Pisarev,
all of them stood for an idea and were outcasts .
But no matter how hostile reality was to
them they believed in truth and fought for it. And what is
the intelligentsia in the West? A private person,
uninterested in contact with the masses.
In other words to be a member of the intelligentsia
is a profession...
Yes, it is a social calling. Lenin, after all, was also