Canvas of Conviction

The recently concluded Tarkovsky festival hosted by the Russian Centre in Mumbai has rekindled the largely forgotten legacy of the gifted filmmaker. Sudhir Raikar recounts the timeless appeal of Andrei Rublev, a masterpiece of lyrical tapestry in world cinema.

December 10, 2013 11:58 IST | Sudhir Raikar
Had Tarkovsky been a psychologist or a painter, he would have surely assumed Freudian status for his inimitable and instinctual probe for the said spheres are blessed with the coveted license to explore abstract realms with gay abandon. But Tarkovsky was a filmmaker and yet he never shied away from unleashing the non-figurative idiom on celluloid, like a gifted painter comes alive on canvas or an erudite professor fills tons of paper. This caused strife on multiple fronts. While his maverick ways invited the wrath of his Soviet establishment, he also drew flak from those makers and viewers worldwide who pledge mechanical allegiance to their self-imposed notions of what constitutes cinema. The mute revelation that cinema could almost be synonymous with art would have proved thwarting if not threatening.

Tarkovsky's stream-of-consciousness on screen is evident right from his formative creations like The Steamroller and the Violin but it was his first feature Ivan's Childhood that ushered in the monochrome memoir form of long takes and sedately moving frames: a staple feature of his films which made no explicit distinction between the reel and the real. This stylistic approach was an intricate function of both his courage and competence. It doesn't take much to rave about the abstract potential of cinema in film festivals but it takes everything to demonstrate it through a freewheeling portrayal of inexplicable motifs and obscure situations in film after film. Tarkovsky provides you with the material itself, you are free to debate whether you find it metaphysical, empirical, existential, spiritual, theological or all in one. Tarkovsky considered it imperative to lose himself in his art before he claimed to find meaning. Precisely why his truth was never proclaimed, it was simply left to be reclaimed. And while you could have reservations about the length and breadth of his cinematic verse, you could never be in doubt about its significance. 

The Tarkovsky masterpiece Andrei Rublev best exemplifies his rich tapestry. For one, it raises the bar for visionary tributes. Tarkovsky spins a fictional tale of seemingly disparate but inherently coherent events in the life of his namesake - the iconic painter of medieval Russia well known for his orthodox frescos. However, Tarkovsky's take of the period theme is discernibly timeless, harping on the litmus test of true art a holistic and obligatory blend of the artists vision, trials, triumphs, faith and calling in life. 

The abstract introduction establishes the films underlying mysticism, allegorically reminiscent of the old man and the dancing bodies in the opening sequence of Ghatak's Jukti Takko Aar Gappo (Story, Debate and a Reason). Andrei Rublev is consciously shot in monochrome save for the concluding frame following the subtle crescendo marked by a metaphorical bell toll - a resounding echo that astutely represents Rublev's resurrected faith after a chain of stormy events including hedonistic rituals, natural calamities, inhuman atrocities and Crimean Tatar invasions. The turbulent happenings mirror Rublev's own turmoil and internal failings. He is not a mere chronicler of happenings; he's as much a sinner and victim himself, seeking evolutionary redemption beneath his monastic cover.

Hard as it may seem, it's not difficult to arrive at the implicit message in Tarkovsky's work provided one is willing to travel at his pace, keeping instinct way ahead of intellect in the process. There are no obvious traces or explicit clues to help you time your applause. If one detests the films length especially that of the concluding coloured frame which shows Rublev's art in slow moving splendour, one must remember that it perfectly rhymes with Rublev's elongated, painstaking evolution. We can't help reading Tarkovsky's own pathos as a beleaguered filmmaker in Rublev's moving experience. No wonder, every frame of this milestone movie is blessed with his Midas touch. No wonder, the legendary Ingmar Bergman considered Tarkovsky the greatest of them all. His heartfelt tribute says it all:

Tarkovsky moves with such naturalness in the room of dreams. He doesn't explain. What should he explain anyhow? He is a spectator, capable of staging his visions in the most unwieldy but, in a way, the most willing of media. All my life I have hammered on the doors of the rooms in which he moves so naturally. Only a few times have I managed to creep inside.

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