Unforgettable Scenes #8: “Icon painting…”

Last week I had a chance to revisit a film called Andrei Rublev, directed by a filmmaker named Andrei Tarkovsky. It was the third time I had seen the film, and it is a movie viewing I will never, ever, ever forget. The room I was in was deathly quiet for the whole 185 minutes, and when the film was over, I sat speechless for a while longer, before immediately updating my top 100 films list and moving it from spot number 86 to spot number 15. This movie absolutely tore me apart, and I cherished every second of it.

There are several great scenes in this powerful, earthshattering, quite literally lifechanging movie, but one struck me in particular: the film’s epilogue. It is the only part of the film shot in colour, and it is the first time Tarkovsky used colour in a feature (this was only his second of seven films). Unlike most of the rest of the film, there is no plot in this eight minute scene. There is simply a slide show of paintings created by the film’s protagonist, the eponymous Rublev, a very famous icon painter and Russian artist. According to Wikipedia, these are the paintings we are shown: Enthroned ChristTwelve ApostlesThe AnnunciationTwelve ApostlesJesus entering JerusalemBirth of ChristEnthroned ChristTransfiguration of JesusResurrection of LazarusThe AnnunciationResurrection of LazarusBirth of ChristTrinityArchangel MichaelPaul the ApostleThe Redeemer.

Even if religion is not your thing (and it is certainly not mine, since I’m an atheist), you may still be struck in awe by the power of these paintings, which are unlike any others. But it’s not so much the paintings that hit me, it was more the music and the editing – the way the music and images integrated and juxtaposed, that sent shivers down my spine. It was truly staggering. And then there is my favourite moment, which occurs at the very last few seconds of the scene, in which the music fades away and is replaced by the sound of rain, and the camera fades from The Redeemer to one of cinema’s most haunting images – in fact, one of my top five movie images I’ve ever seen: that of four horses, stranded on a small island during a rainstorm. That’s all there is, for only a few seconds, but when I saw it my heart absolutely sunk. I could not move. I was frozen. Then the movie finished.

Below I’ve embedded a video of the scene. This video is actually of the entire last 50 minutes of the movie, since my video of the scene was blocked by Mosfilm. So, to see the scene, you will have to skip through the video to approximately 41 minutes and watch from there on. Find eight minutes to watch this and just sink into the music and images. They might not move you the way you moved me (they have a lot more effect when you watch the entire film), but I still encourage you to give them a look. Even if the first seven minutes bores you, stick through it for the last minute. There has never been a film finale quite like this.

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Posted on June 18, 2012, in Movies, Unforgettable Scenes and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. If I remember correctly, those paintings come at the end of the section on the bellmaker, also staggering in the way it conveys the frantic struggle for perfection in an incredibly difficult craft. It’s a meditation on the nature of craft, entailing the fear of failure and never-ending work towards a goal that becomes unattainable.

    • Yes they do. The bellmaking section of the movie is another flooring part, and one of many reasons why I love this film so much.

  2. This is truly an unforgettable film and that ending… wow. I plan to re-watch the film in August to uncover its DVD special features for my Auteurs piece on Tarkovsky in August.

  3. Then get the fucking DVD! There’s a Criterion sale coming next month at Barnes & Noble.

    • Well I don’t live in the US, so that’s kind of impossible. I have to buy it imported which costs a lot for any Criterion, which is why I don’t buy a lot.

  4. Christian Hallbeck

    You’re right: these final eight minutes are very beautiful. The cut to the horses is sublime. It’s absolute filmmaking. I’m not going to analyze this film (there are so much to say about it), or interpret the ending, but have you noticed that – amidst the beauty, refreshing rain and apparent freedom – the horse to the far right is tied to the ground and struggles to free himself/herself? This is hardly a coincidence. It’s been a long time since I saw this film, so I don’t know if I’m right, but – with the picture of the tied horse in mind – doesn’t this final minute sum up the content of the previous three hours?

    • I did notice that about the fourth horse. It’s one of my favourite images in all of movies, and I just about melted when I saw it the first time. I guess it does sum up the previous three hours in a beautiful, harrowing way.

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