I won’t deny it: Tarkovsky’s classic put me to sleep (full stomach, stuffy room, subtitles—you get the idea). But one thing about Andrei Rublev (Andrey Rublyov / Андрей Рублёв 1966/2016) stayed with me after I awoke.
Well, okay, two things. First is Nikolai Burlyayev, who plays the bellmaker’s son in the famous final episode; he turns in a preternaturally precocious performance, even better than his performance in the titular role of Tarkovsky’s first feature, Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo / Ива́ново де́тство 1962, which did not put me to sleep), because here his uncanny maturity is seasoned with an inner uncertainty, a wavering underneath his bluff of colossal proportions. I can’t think of a single Hollywood boy actor who can do what Burlyayev does.
My second, arguably more profound impression is of the vow of silence that Rublev (Anatoly Solonitsyn) takes at the end of episode five and maintains till the end of episode seven. Someone in episode six says that it’s an act of penance, and indeed he does take his vow after killing a man, but I disagree. The apparition of Theophanus (Nikolai Sergeyev) absolves him of his blame on the basis of the fact that he was killing to defend an innocent holy fool (Irma Rausch, Tarkovsky’s wife(!)), and even though he still feels guilty, as most of us would, I think what he truly can’t forgive is the world, a world that forces him to paint for the Machiavellian Grand Duke (Yuriy Nazarov), blinds his artisans for taking on other projects, compels him to take a life to save the one true source of innocence in his life, and lures away that innocence to marry off to a tartar khan (Bolot Beyshenaliyev)—so he turns his back on it, washes his hands of anything to do with secular matters, including art. Why else would he break his silence for something that has no power to absolve him: the bell, the miraculous resounding of which reassures him of a holy presence in this hellish world?