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SET IN the early 1400s, Rus­sian writer-direc­tor An­drei Tarkovsky’s great­est mas­ter­piece de­picts the life of the fa­mous icon pain­ter, An­drei Rublev. But it also keeps ev­ery­day vil­lage ex­is­tence, ex­tra­or­di­nary events, and me­dieval Rus­sian his­tory mov­ing from back­ground to fore­ground in an episodic nar­ra­tive ta­pes­try. Princes and re­li­gion rule every as­pect of Rus­sian life, with mo­ti­va­tion for ac­tions stem­ming from be­lief in God (or the ret­ri­bu­tion of the church), sub­servience, and fear of the mer­ci­less Tar­tar in­vaders. Faith and art are put to the test in this over­flow­ing epic as the pain­ter trav­els through the decades of his time.

Cri­te­rion’s set in­cludes two ver­sions of the film. A new 2K restora­tion of the 183-minute cut has all dirt, warps, and other dam­ages dig­i­tally re­moved, but enough grain left be­hind to main­tain Rublev’s filmic pre­sen­ta­tion with­out sac­ri­fic­ing res­o­lu­tion. Mag­nif­i­cent in-depth com­po­si­tions, of­ten re­sem­bling Bruegel paint­ings, fill vast land­scapes with fig­ures, farms, and forests, all of it dis­tinct, sharp, and highly de­tailed. Bright white snow con­trasts with the inky black of monks’ cloaks, and there’s a beau­ti­ful range of gray tones through­out the film. At the fin­ish, Rublev’s painted icons are strik­ingly dis­played with their rich but re­strained color. Tarkovsky com­pletists will ap­pre­ci­ate the orig­i­nal 205-minute ver­sion of the film (ini­tially sup­pressed by Soviet au­thor­i­ties) on Disc 2. This trans­fer has less con­trast and looks softer and mud­dier. Also, the ex­tra footage doesn’t im­prove on the other, tighter cut that Tarkovsky pre­ferred.

The mono sound­track of the shorter cut fea­tures a mys­te­ri­ous, surg­ing score of an­cient in­stru­ments and a choir that is clear and full. Ef­fects like streams, wind, and end­less rain all sound dis­tinct and con­vinc­ing. The au­dio on the longer ver­sion of the film isn’t as well-de­fined.

Two fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­men­taries are in­cluded on Cri­te­rion’s disc. The first is archival and fea­tures footage of Tarkovsky, with his film­maker con­tem­po­raries pro­vid­ing voiceover con­tem­pla­tions of his work. The sec­ond one is re­cent and has in­ter­views with ac­tor Niko­lai Burlyaev and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Vadim Yusov on the pro­duc­tion and the fate of the film. A select-scene com­men­tary by film scholar Vlada Pet­ric that an­a­lyzes the film’s cin­e­matic lan­guage is de­cent, if stodg­ily aca­demic, whereas fel­low scholar Robert Bird’s in­ter­view pro­vides an in­sight­ful, en­gag­ing his­tory of Rublev, Tarkovsky, and of the film it­self. Two more gems: a read­ing of the direc­tor’s writ­ings that’s il­lus­trated by film clips, and a col­or­ful stu­dent film, The Steam­roller and the Vi­o­lin, that dis­plays Tarkovsky’s bud­ding ge­nius.

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