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A Gallery of Thoughts on Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Andrei Rublev: Life and Fate of the Cinematic Masterpiece

Year 2016 is the anniversary of the masterpiece of world cinema, the film Andrei Rublev: the film itself is turning 50, and it's been 45 years since the fist showing to the audience of the entire country, i.e. to the people.

However, some movie critics on TV channels and in the press have already hastened to "cancel" the anniversary of the film (and others believe that it is not worth starting a conversation about the picture, because "everything has already been said"). Why?

The thing is, the road toward the viewer of the film Andrei Rublev was long and complex. At times it became dramatic, sometimes even acquiring an adventurous nuance. And all because the picture was repeatedly returned "for readjustments", "cuts and corrections" for various reasons, which will be discussed below.

The act of accepting the film by the Cinematography Committee of USSR was issued, albeit with reservation, on August 25, 1966. A similar "act" represented the final point of the production, that is, the creation of a film in Soviet times.

So this date should be considered the date of the release of the film.

But in fact, the film appeared on the screen in the country in five years - in December 1971. This date is also documented in the reference literature. And until "a limited showing", the way norms of film screening in cinemas were determined at the time, the picture was either shown in the so-called "closed screenings", or "underground" - that is, bypassing the existing order, violation of which called for a criminal penalty.

This was said to explain the date of the appearance of the film on the country's screens.

What concerns "the fate of the film", it is worth talking about it, in spite of the fact that "everything is written" about it. Here we are discussing essential, religious issues, which, if written in books and numerous articles about the film, are discussed only in passing.

And then sometimes it is not even mentioned.

And meanwhile these issues are the most important, essential, worth talking and writing about, when it comes to the film, which is, according to the surveys of critics in many countries, included in the 100 best films of all times and nations.


We will obtain the answer to this question if we say what the purpose of cinema is, about its significance in the spiritual life of a country, about its artistic power, which greatly reflects the soul of a nation.

This is what concerned me most when I decided to write about Andrei Rublev. Although I already touched upon those questions while I worked on the "Story About the Elder Brother," the actor Anatoly Solonitsyn, who embodied on the screen the character of the venerable Andrei Rublev, the icon painter, now canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church as a saint. But in that book, which experienced several editions, more was said about personal, about the creation of the very actor, who got the fateful role that determined all his subsequent fate. And all these years after the departure of my brother, and then his friends and comrades in the acting department, I've been wanting to tell about the whole film, why he became one of the symbols of our Russian national art. Why Andrei Rublev never gets old, obsolete, like many, many films and their copies, but, on the contrary, with time its spiritual power becomes increasingly clear and distinct.

This idea did not give me peace: how could those two young people - Andrei Tarkovsky and Andrei Konchalovsky (Mikhalov-Konchalovsky) - manage to write such remarkable screenplay - in essence a novel - of artistic merits and content? And how did they, people removed from the Church, manage to understand so well the spiritual and everyday life of monasticism? And what did they miss due to the fact that the time for understanding the essence of the spiritual heights of Orthodoxy, the monastic life by the people in art circles had not yet arrived? And how then did Andrei Tarkovsky by himself manage to ascend such heights, which opened the horizons of Orthodoxy?

A multitude of book have been written about Andrei Tarkovsky in our country and abroad. They talk about the pictorial style of the director, sound, colour, other properties of his cinematic expression. Quite a few scholarly books about the director's oeuvre have also been written. But the majority of those books, occasionally good in scholarly terms, is intended for a narrow professional auditorium. And they are written in a language peculiar to works of this kind. They seldom talk about the spiritual essence of Tarkovsky's films. And if they do, they do it only from the aspect of philosophical concepts created by authors. At times these concepts are artificially attached to the film, even though they essentially don't have anything to do with the problems of Andrei Rublev. There are also persistent misconceptions in the interpretations of the main ideas of the film. Even factual mistakes.

In order to avoid those mistakes, according to my deep conviction, it is necessary to show the spiritual path taken by Andrei Tarkovsky before the creation of the film and during its production. After all, this is the very foundation on which an artist's work is built, whether he be a composer, writer, painter or film director.

Besides, film analysis should be done according to the laws of artistic creativity, and not according to "concepts" taken from philosophers or art historians, even very well known and popular in the academic circles.

There is another circumstance that needs to be mentioned when talking about an artist like Andrei Tarkovsky, who is today rightfully called a great film director.

This circumstance is unearthly, above-worldly, not explainable by scholarship, but by religion.

For example, in the film Stalker, the camera is examining objects flooded with water: a syringe, part of the triptych from the Ghent Cathedral with the image of John the Baptist, then we see a detachable calendar with the date December 28. And on the night between December 28 and 29, Andrei Tarkovsky passed away.

"Coincidence!" - atheists would say.

But during the filming of The Sacrifice, for a long time Tarkovsky cannot find a place where to shoot the human panic after the atomic attack. He chooses, to the surprise of the group, an ordinary underground walkway in Stockholm. And across that very ordinary walkway, neat the cinema, a little later the beloved Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was killed. And the assassin stood at the very spot where the camera was installed.

Another coincidence? But there are such "coincidences" in Andrei Rublev as well. So, perhaps it's something else? Divine providence, as believers would say?

I will cite an excerpt from the correspondence with my brother during the years when the film was shot, in order to show that it was Providence, as my brother and I understood afterwards, that had affected his choice of the principal role and in his entire subsequent fate in film and life.

Here is what my brother wrote to me and my wife during the first days before the shooting began in Autumn of 1965:

"My little ones! Here I am already ten days in Moscow. Wandering through museums, the Kremlin, cathedrals, reading interesting literature, meeting curious, talented people. Preparations. The filming will start on April 24-26 in Vladimir (the scene with Boriska - the finale of the film). What will it look like, I don't know. Now it seems to me that I cannot do anything, I won't manage - I am at a loss. I've been beaten for so long in the theatre, bent for so long, I already snapped. I grew unaccustomed to real work, and in cinema, on top, there is a particular style. Too much is put on my feeble shoulders. I am not used to carrying so much happiness, I have always carried something else. Well, we'll see!"

Imagine: a completely unknown provincial actor arrives by himself, on his own initiative, to Mosfilm, finds the film company "Andrei Rublev," and says he wants to play the main part. Asks for an audition.

But they have already been conducted. The main part, after much search, was given to the talented Stanislav Liubshin. And suddenly there is an unknown hick who says he read the screenplay in the journal Iskusstvo Kino, and he was so impressed by it, he couldn't find peace since. So he came.

Photo shoots were conducted, probably just to get rid of the strange person. Then screen tests. First, second, third...

The director says that he finally found the actor he was looking for. The entire art council is against Anatoly Solonitsyn. Then Andrei Tarkovsky calls the film consultant, the young art restorer Savva Iamshchikov i spreads out all the photo shoots of the actors. He asks: "Who among them is Rublev?"

Iamshchikov shows the photo of Solonitsyn, and Tarkovsky is convinced he had made the right choice. He starts a sharp conflict, argues even with the experienced Mikhail Romm, who thinks Solonitsyn will ruin the film. But Tarkovsky is adamant.

He makes the following deal with the actor: if he "spoils" the first scene, he will be taken off the set. And the scene is the finale, the most important in the movie.

Let us recall the scene.

Teenager Boriska, fallen in the mud after the sound of the bell he made without knowning "the secret of the bell bronze," supposedly bequeathed to him by his father: all the masters had died of cholera, and the prince is forced to place the boy at the head of the team. If the bell does not ring, death awaits Boriska.

But the bell is ringing! Venerable Andrei holds the boy, who is no longer needed by anyone, in his hands, comforts him, and, breaking the vow of silence, says:

Here, here... he made such a celebration for the people, and now he's crying. Let's tour Russia: you will forge bells, and I will paint icons.

Preparing for the shoot, Anatoly ties a scarf around his throat, since the voice has to be coarse after a long silence. He made a vow of silence, and these are his first words.

Anatoly is silent for more than a month, not uttering a single word.

Tarkovsky is terrified: after all,Anatoly could lose his voice for good! But in his heart he is glad: Solonitsyn is truly ready to do anything for the role, which he holds to be the act of his life.

He abandons his theatre, he is always with the troupe, even when there are no shootings, so he would always be in the atmosphere needed for the role.

The actor and the director start a friendship. It lasted for almost 20 years, until the untimely departure of Anatoly Solonitsyn.

The hidden meaning of the film proved to be higher than all the declaration and even intentions of the author. After all,Tarkovsky is telling everywhere that he is shooting a film about a great artist, who at the difficult time for Russia creates brilliant pictures. The film will not be biographical, but it will raise the problem of "artist and time".

But the result turns out to be completely different. Because he is creating a film about an icon painter, who had been given a gift by God through the icon - "a window to heavens" - to express the ineffable: to reveal the Lord Almighty to the world in the image of Three Angels.

No wonder on one of the icons Andrei Rublev is presented painting an icon, and behind his back is an angel leading his hand.


The hero of the film, Boriska, doesn't know the secret of the bell bronze, but is placed at the head of the bell-making masters, and casts a miracle bell.

A completely unknown provincial actor from the Sverdlovsk Drama Theatre, for some reason, despite a unanimous opinion of the art council, who opposed him, is given the principal role.

And, risking his voice and health, ready to give his life only to embody the icon painter on the screen, he creates the image of the Venerable.

Andrei Tarkovsky in spite of everything proceeds toward the embodiment of the plan, which he feels with his soul, not his head. And during the course of the shootings, then editing, then corrections, he does something completely different from what the cinema heads demand from him, and he follows the mystery, a logic only known to him, which is in the fate not of an artist, but a person elected by God.

Through suffering he embodies the idea that is not human, but divine.

And how did the screenplay make its way to become a film?

The head of Mosfilm, Leonid Nikolaevich Nekhoroshev was on the side of the authors. But how to help them? It was necessary for the general director of the studio to approve it, and then Goskino.

And there was a higher instance above those directors - the Central Committtee of the Party and its ministry of culture. Any kind of "slip" was immediately sanctioned: the directors, chiefs of the cinematography lost their seats.

The deputy of the Ministry of Culture, directly in charge of the cinema, was Georgy Ivanovich Kunitsyn. He read the text and sided with the authors, realising there the screenplay in front of him could become an extraordinary film. And he began to think, how to facilitate the confirmation of the script, so it could be put into production.

And he recommended the screenplay to be published in the journal Isusstvo Kino! After all, a published screenplay is already the property of the entire cinematographic community.

And the general director of Mosfilm issues an order to launch the picture into production.

G. I. Kunitsyn was a member of the Writers' Union, member of the Journalist Union of USSR, the author of many articles and scholarly works. Thanks to him, the screenplay was included in the plans of Mosfilm and allowed to be shot. Andrei Arsenevich called Kunitsyn his first assistant in the affair of releasing Andrei Rublev.

Some film critics ironically, even sarcastically write about Kunitsyn as a clerk, who paid for the overly zealous pushing of the script and the defence of the already completed film.

Yes, Georgi Ivanovich was indeed dismissed from work when the film was completed. The leadership from the CC and the Cinematography Committee were ready to put the film "on the shelf," that is, to send the film to the archives as a film with "ideological blunders," contradictory to the policies of the party. But G. I. Kunitsyn understood what kind of responsibility he is assuming and that he would be charged by his superiors. He fought for the film, not thinking about his career, strict measures to be taken against him. He cared that the film is carried out and shown to the people - this is what he thought about foremost.

And that's why we can remember him only in good terms.

And to tell that Divine Providence is also visible here.

Not even realising it, the creators of the film announced to the world the Trinity indivisible and life-giving, created by Andrei Rublev unto the ages.

After all, this creation of the Venerable became, according to the words of the prominent theologian Father Pavel Florensky, another proof of the existence of God.

The testimonies of those who knew Andrei Arsenevich closely: relatives, friends-filmmakers are also indicative. They talk about the meaningful and spiritual component of the film, and not about anecdotes and the circumstances of the intimate life, which are now readily circulated by many authors. But for this, one must not conduct a "graphological expertise," as it was done in one of the TV programs devoted to the anniversary of the film, but talk about the spiritual life of the director, so the "life and fate" of his film would become clearer against the background of the events in our country and the world. And why Andrei Rublev turned out to be above political and ideological passions of the "left" and the "right."

And so the film appeared abroad.

The country needs foreign currency, and Andrei Rublev, along with other films, is sold to a foreign firm.

There is an indicative testimony about the premiere of Andrei Rublev in Cannes by one of the managers of Sovexportfilm, professor of the State Cinematographic Institute, O. Teinishvili:

The approaches to the Palace were crammed with those who wanted to enter the screening. Lucien Soria paced between the journalists and the cabinet of Favre Le Bret, settling the emerging conflicts. Toward the morning the representatives of the French, Italian, Spanish, German, Swiss press came to Cannes, along with the accredited journalists from USA, South America, England, Scandinavian countries, Japan, and the countries of the "Socialist camp." A multilingual rumble took place. There was no way to accommodate all who wanted to enter the two planned screenings. And then I asked Alex Moskovich to arrange with Favre Le Bret about two more screenings on the second day, on Sunday.

Before the first session, the festival directorate announced on city radio and television that the film Andrei Rublev would be shown twice on the second day as well. This announcement took off the heat of passion. And yet in the hall there was no place for a nail to fall. We sat in the aisles, on the stairs, on the stage. I watched the audience during the screening of the film. Such tension of the viewer, and the viewer very specific, spoiled by all the miracles of cinematography, I have never seen before or since. When the shots with the iconostasis and the stallions in the green meadow were over, a flurry of applause began, and exclamations were heard: "fantastique", "génial", "formidable", "belissimo", "grandioso" ...

I expected a good reception, but such?! The spirit was overwhelmed by joy, rapture. Alex Moskovich and Sergio Gambarov, not feeling ashamed, wept. Yes, there are moments of revelation and joy in people's life. And this happened to us thanks to the birth of Andrei Tarkovsky's film. In the evening, during the second showing, everything happened again. On Sunday, the number of those who wanted to see the film increased. Almost all the vacationers of Cote d'Azur arrived. The whole evening press came out on Saturday with short, but elated reports about the film. French, English, Italian, Spanish, German Sunday newspapers and the press of other countries dedicated entire columns to Andrei Rublev. Only the press in the Soviet Union was silent, in spite of the imposing presence of the correspondents of Pravda, Izvestia, Literataturnaia Gazeta in Cannes. And nowadays, after many years, all of them grew bold and started writing about their "heroic participation" in the fate of the film Andrei Rublev...

Having returned from the festival to Paris, I was immediately beset by a series of phone calls from Moscow. Now guidelines were poured concerning the premiere of the film in Paris. And interestingly, the loss of all rights to the film after selling them to "DIS" didn't even occur to the managers of the Cinematography Committee. The telegram had to be sent about our inability to prohibit the film screening in Paris. And we can get this right... only after paying millions in foreign currency for breaking the contract and forfeiting. But the telegram remained incomprehensible to the management of the Committee. They continued to send me threatening orders to prevent the premiere of Andrei Rublev in Paris. Both funny and bitter! In their desire to fulfill the orders of the Central Committee of the Party, the leaders of the CC were losing a sense of reality: the Central Committee and our Cinematography Committee didn't have any relationship with the French firm.

At the end of the summer the premiere of the film Andrei Rublev took place in Parisian cinemas Cugease, Elysee-Lincoln, Bonaparte and Studio Raspail. The film was shown in those theatres with 300-450 seats to sold-out crowds during the course of an entire year. It is senseless to describe the success with the audience and the press...

Did Tarkovsky know about the stunning success of his film? He knew, at least in part, from translations of the French articles that fell into his hands.

And the more painful it was for him to endure those humiliations, intentional delays of the release of the picture on screens in his native country. Especially with his character - tough, independent, but deeply vulnerable, protected only by external calm during the heavy blows by the authorities.

Nevertheless, he wasn't an enemy of the Soviet state, he wasn't a dissident, as some authors try to present him. He tried to remain above politics in life and in art, and shunned away from those who wrote "novels with a direction," as F. Dostoevsky called them. He was interested in the problems of life and death, the place of man in life, i.e. questions substantial, religious. The authorities understood this more intuitively, feeling in him "not their man," but an outsider meticulously hiding his "idealistic philosophy." Yes, talented, yes, smart, but too self-assured, conceited too soon, he should be "broken up," forced to film correct, ideologically "sustained" films.

In order to explain his position, Andrei Tarkovsky decides to write a letter to L. Brezhnev. But even after this, the director's toll houses do not end. As already mentioned, the film was released in a "limited screening" only five year later, in 1971.

How can one not think here that only in suffering lies the path to the salvation of the soul! This what the film is about.

Let us recall the finale of the picture, which follows the episode with Boriska described above.

The film is black and white, but its last part, where Rublev's icons are shown, is colored. And in front of the amazed viewer a miracle appears: "The Feast Rank" in the Kremlin Cathedral of Annunciation, "Procession of the Righteous into Paradise" from the Vladimir Cathedral of the Assumption, the immortal "Trinity" and finally the image of the Saviour. There is a sound of the inspired choral, a hymn to the glory of God, to the glory of the Creator Almighty.

But even this is not the end.

The image of the Saviour appears on the screen. Divine music is interrupted by thunderstorm. Lightning illuminates the face of Christ. As after the crucifixion and death on Calvary, as the Gospel says, thunder roars and the curtain is torn. But in the film, it's not downpour, but warm rain that falls on the ground. It gently rustles, flows down the leaves of the trees into radiated rivers. Here, horses graze peacefully, occasionally shaking rain drops from themselves. Here it is, the beauty of my land.

And only after that cord the film ends.

This was the fate of the film Andrei Rublev.

This is why it never grows old and it will always be new for future generations, because in high artistic form it shows how in Rus' Christ the Saviour was announced to the world.

Aleksei Solonitsyn

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