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Every ten years since 1952, the world-renowned film magazine Sight & Sound has polled a wide international selection of film critics and directors on what they consider to be the ten greatest works of cinema ever made, and then compiled the results. The top fifty movies in the 2012 critics’ list, unveiled August 1, include twenty-five Criterion titles. In this series, we highlight those classic films.
Almost certainly the most important Russian filmmaker of the second half of the twentieth century, Andrei Tarkovsky landed with full force on the cinematic scene with his 1962 debut, Ivan’s Childhood, which dazzled viewers with its virtuosic photography and sound. Despite that film’s precocious brilliance, nothing could possibly have prepared audiences in 1966 for its follow-up, an unusual, dreamlike biography of the Russian icon painter Andrei Rublev (1360–1430). They would not have believed their eyes—if they’d been allowed to see the film. It broke so many rules of filmmaking behind the Iron Curtain (it was deemed negative, frightening, salacious, violent, and too politically ambivalent) that it was shelved and not screened domestically until 1971 (after it caused a sensation at a secret screening at Cannes in 1969). Equal parts history and mysticism, Andrei Rublev is now considered alongside cinema’s preeminent masterpieces. J. Hoberman called it “the most historically audacious production in the twenty-odd years since Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan the Terrible.”
So who is the man who accomplished all this? A theorist and writer as well as a director (his Sculpting in Time is among the most important books on filmmaking), Tarkovsky created a transcendent, metaphysical form of cinema that constitutes a genre unto itself. In this archival interview, he relates his philosophies on art and nature (while reclining in a tree!).
Now watch Andrei Rublev’s amazing—and never-contextualized—opening sequence. With its arresting tracking movements, slow-motion shots of a horse by a river, and images recorded from a great height, simulating the flight of a primitive hot-air balloon a man uses to escape marauders, this prologue is a strange and beautiful way in to a daring, exceptional work of art.