[… continued from a previous post …]
Andrei Tarkovsky completed Andrei Rublev, or at least thought that he had, in August 1966. This (first) version of the film was actually titled The Passion According to Andrei and it is 205 minutes in length. The final preparations were so rushed that some of the actors’ names were accidentally left off the credits. Once thought lost, a single copy of this version was kept by one of the film’s editors (Lyudmila Feiginova) at her home, under her bed. Soviet film archivists unveiled it in 1987, and it was released as a DVD in 1999 as part of the Criterion Collection (from whom it is still available).
Whatever the members of the State Committee on Cinema thought they were getting, in a film by Tarkovsky about Rublev, this apparently wasn’t it. The film was not approved, and a list of changes – mostly to do with trimming the overall length, and specific scenes depicting violence, nudity and vulgarity – was sent back to Tarkovsky. Having made most of the changes, Tarkovsky submitted a second version of the film, now titled simply Andrei Rublev, and 190 minutes long, in December 1966. This second version has never seen the light of day and may no longer exist.
In the meantime, an inflammatory article about a particular scene in the film depicting brutality had appeared in the Soviet press. And so the second version of the film was also not approved, and a new list of changes was drawn up and sent to Tarkovsky. In a letter to the authorities dated 7 February 1967, Tarkovsky rejected these “monstrous, illiterate demands [which would] murder the picture.” At a later point, however, Tarkovsky did make a few more changes, resulting in a third version 185 minutes long, and then declared his unwillingness to make any further changes, come what may. This third version is the one that is currently available as a DVD from RUSCICO (Russian Cinema Council), and it is the one most commonly seen internationally, except in the United States, where the first version (via Criterion Collection) prevails.
As Robert Bird notes, “the ultimate source of the authorities’ objections has never become clear, but they must have been quite serious for the cinema system basically to reject one of its greatest products and heaviest investments.” In 1967, the Cannes Film Festival invited Andrei Rublev to be part of its Soviet film retrospective (1967 was the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution), but the invitation was declined because, according to Soviet officials, the film was unfinished. Two years later, in 1969, Cannes extended another invitation; this time the Soviets accepted, sending the 185-minute version, where it won the FIPRESCI prize. The film was also distributed in France and some other European countries, against the wishes of the Soviets, but the distributor was found to have legally acquired the rights.
At the end of 1971, despite the refusal by Tarkovsky to renewed demands for cuts, the Soviet authorities finally approved the 185-minute version of Andrei Rublev for domestic release. There was no promotion of the film whatsoever, but theaters in the Soviet Union that showed the film were reportedly packed. Andrei Rublev was released in the United States in 1973 but the distributor, Columbia Pictures, made its own cuts, to the point that its version was nearly incoherent (happily, this version is long extinct).
Counting from initial conception to domestic release, Andrei Rublev took up (admittedly, at varying levels of intensity) eleven years of Tarkovsky’s life. When one considers that this represented nearly one-fifth of his relatively short life, one begins to appreciate what a sacrifice this film was for him – it took a pretty significant chunk out of his life. It also permanently wrecked his reputation with much of the Soviet film establishment, although thankfully not to the point that he was unable to continue directing films. As Bird states, “By this time , Tarkovsky and the state cinema apparatus had resigned themselves to an uneasy accommodation, which persisted right up to 1983 [when Tarkovsky defected to the West].”