Andrei Tarkovsky on Andrei Rublev

The following material was compiled and translated into English by Robert Bird of the University of Chicago, Slavic Languages and Literatures. Translation copyright by Robert Bird.

Some portions adapted from

Since cinema is the most popular and democratic of all the arts the question of its relationship to the viewer, to the nation, is one of the most important questions and requires the closest attention.

Now as never before the cinema has great significance as an ideological pedagogue, a warrior for the harmonic man of the future, a powerful storehouse of the progressive ideas of modernity, and a source of aesthetic enjoyment.

And at the same time the resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union reminds us justly and in a timely fashion that "Soviet cinematic art is still not fulfilling its full role in the communist education of the nation."

It is time to declare decisive war against workmanlike and grey, inexpressive film, and to proclaim creative experiment as the rule of work in the cinema, which stands before an enormous task: to express the most progressive ideas of its time.

What are the most important issues right now?

  • fight for peace.
  • fight for the ideological education of man.
  • fight for the aesthetic education of the man of the future.
Fight, fight, fight. One should never forget this!

From these issues follow other ones, contiguous with these and relating to our practical work.

Only on the basis of trust and mutual respect can we achieve creative triumphs. Trust for the viewer and a conversation between equals is the only way the artist's plan can touch the hearts of his viewers. There is no other way, no matter how much we try to find one. In no case should the artist simplify what seems clear to him. This is the root of the gradual degradation of the film director. Most importantly, this is a compromise on the path towards aesthetically educating the viewers' tastes and towards the creation of the most progressive cinema in the world.

In no case should one pander to the tastes of backward viewers and turn cinema into "fast food." Cinema is high art, not entertainment. And to understand it one must study. The same way that one studies the history of literature, theatre, art, etc. at school and college. Incidentally, I think it is long overdue to include the history of Soviet and foreign film in the school and college curriculum.

The cinematic artist is obliged to summon the viewer on to solve new the ideological and aesthetic tasks with which the Communist Party is now challenging the art of film. [...]

The relationship between viewer and artist and the question of art in national life conceal within themselves a great number of opportunities not only for the commentator or critic. Here lies the source of profound creative projects and genuinely contemporary works.

Therefore I link my creative plans to the question of the artist's relationship to the nation and to his time, where the artist does not exist in isolation, but is the conscience of society, the pinnacle of its imagination, and the mouthpiece of its talent. These issues form the basis of the screenplay The Passion according to Andrei which I am currently writing together with Andrei Konchalovsky.

This screenplay tells of the life of the genius Russian artist Andrei Rublev, whose memorialization was urged by Vladimir Lenin in his first decrees.

The problems of the Russian renaissance, about which we unfortunately know practically nothing, help us to trace the civic line of this artist and isolate the significant point at which several planes coincide: time, history, the ethical ideal, the artist, the nation. Our film about Andrei Rublev will tell of the impossibility of creating art outside of the nation's aspirations, of the artist's attempts to express its soul and character, and of the way that an artist's character depends upon his historical situation. The question of the artist's place in the life of the nation seems to us one of the most contemporary and important questions on the cusp of our future.

Andrei Tarkovskii, "Eto ochen' vazhno," Literaturnaia gazeta 20 September 1962, p. 1. Translation by Robert Bird.

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Our prize [for Ivan's Childhood] obliges. And of course I want to make the next film better. Right now Andrei Konchalovsky and I are working on the screenplay of a new film Andrei Rublev. To some degree this continues our line of poetic cinema, which we began with Ivan's Childhood. This picture, it seems to me, will help us to depart from literary discourse, which is still very strong in our cinema. And although the great artist Rublev lived in the fifteenth century, our cine-story about him should be contemporary. After all the problem of talent, the question of the artist and the nation are not obsolete in our own day. In this work we want to reject a unified plot and narrative. We want the viewer to see Rublev with "today's eyes."

Civic-mindedness — this is what most of all distinguishes our cinema from foreign cinema. I would like our new film to continue this tradition of Soviet cinematic art.

Andrei Tarkovskii, "Spor o geroiakh," Komsomol'skaia Pravda 13 September 1962, p. 4. Translation by Robert Bird.

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I am interested in the theme of the artist's personality in its relationship to his time. The artist, on the strength of his natural sensitivity, is the person who perceives his epoch most profoundly and reflects it most fully.

This will be neither a historical nor a biographical film. The process of the artist's creative maturation and the analysis of his talent is what fascinates me. Andrei Rublev's art and life is fertile material for such a film. Rublev was the summit of the Russian renaissance, one of the most colourful figures in the history of our culture.

Before beginning work on the screenplay we spent a long time studying a mass of historical documents and materials. Not just for our edification, but also to decide what we do not want to use in our film. We are not interested in stylizing the epoch in costumes, furnishings, and the characters' conversational speech. We want our film to be contemporary not only in the completely contemporary sound of its main issue. The historical accessories must not fragment the viewers' attention and worry about persuading them that the action is taking place precisely in the fifteenth century. The neutrality of interiors and of costumes (together with their utter authenticity), the landscape, contemporary speech, all of this will help us to speak of what is most important without getting distracted.

The film will consist of several novellas which are not interconnected directly by plot lines. They will be linked by the movement of the idea, which is internally unified. We don't know yet what order the novellas will be arranged in; perhaps chronologically, perhaps not. We would like to offer the episodes in order of their growing dramatic tension according to the degree of their internal significance for our characterization of Andrei Rublev and according to the degree of their importance for the maturation of his plan for the great Trinity.

We would like to depart from traditional dramaturgy with its canonical completedness and with its formal and logical schematism, which so often prevents the demonstration of life's complexity and fullness. After all, what is the dialectic of the personality? Phenomena which a man encounters or in which he participates become part of the man himself, a part of his sense of life, a part of his character. Therefore the events of the film must not be a backdrop in which the protagonist is imprinted. Often films about people of art are constructed according to the scheme: an event occurs, the hero observes it. Then the viewer sees him think it over, and then he expresses his ideas about the event in his works.

In our film there will not be a single shot of Rublev painting his icons. He will simply live, and he won't even be present onscreen in all episodes. And the last part of the film (in colour) will be solely devoted to Rublev's icons. We will show them in detail (as in a popular scientific film). The onscreen demonstration of the icon will be accompanied by the same musical theme that sounded in the episode of Rublev's life corresponding to the time during which the icon was conceived.

This plot structure in our film is dictated by its task: to reveal the dialectic of the personality, to study the life of the human spirit. I think that the literary and theatrical principle of organizing the material as a plot has nothing in common with the particular nature of the cinema. Any director knows how many sections of a film are emotionally empty. They exist only to explain the circumstances of the action to the viewer. We underestimate the power of the screen image's emotional charge. In cinema it is necessary not to explain, but to act upon the viewer's feelings, and the emotion that is awoken is what provokes thought.

The task of our film forces us to seek a principle of montage that would help us to dwell not on the logic of the plot, but on subjective logic (thought, dream, memory).

Here we will be helped by the mise-en-scène. I am against a mise-en-scène which expresses the idea of the scene with its plasticity, to which end the director inserts the actor into its frame, thereby making his behavior seem unnatural. I am for a mise-en-scène which is the result of people's situation and psychic state, i.e. of circumstances which affect human actions in an objective manner. This is the first condition of representing psychological truth.

Contemporary cinema must be maximally close to life in order to capture its natural flow. This concerns me now, and this is what I aspire to.

The crew on the Rublev film will be the same as worked on Ivan's Childhood: cinematographer Vadim Iusov, designer Evgenii Cherniaev, composer Viacheslav Ovchinnikov. I am already convinced that these people are my allies.

Andrei Tarkovskii, "Iskat' i dobivat'sia," Sovetskii ekran 17 (1962) 9, 20. Cf. Gideon Bachman, "Begegnung mit Andrej Tarkowskij," Filmkritik 1962 (12), pp. 548–552. Translation by Robert Bird.

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Andrei Konchalovsky and I are writing a screenplay entitled The Passion According to Andrei. The film will be about the life of the great Russian painter Andrei Rublev. 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.

Rublev 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 Rublev'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: Rublev, Daniil Cherny, 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.

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

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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 Vasily Livanov... Just then Livanov proposed that the three of us should write a screenplay about Rublev 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 Rublev 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 has 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 Khayyam, 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.

I 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.

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

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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 Rublev'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 plausibility. 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 Rublev 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.

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

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The actor in the title role had to be a man never before seen in film. To play Rublev 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 in 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 Rublev better than he. After the screen test I became convinced that he was indeed the best for the role. [...]

Nobody has ever cut anything from Andrei Rublev. 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 merely 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 fulfills 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 Rublev 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 interdependence of Rublev'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 Rublev'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 Rublev'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 Rublev's life and to reflect. What we meant was that by looking at the colours and listening to the music we imposed on it, 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 Rublev 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 Rublev. 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 Rublev'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].

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