2012 poll rank: #26 (tied with Rashomon)
The biopic is a cinematic genre staple, and there are plenty of good reasons for this. Telling the life story of an important person brings in curious audiences hoping for a glimpse of the person behind the legend, and actors often relish the opportunity embody a well-known figure (that such performances often win prestigious awards is also a likely incentive). Yet despite having been among the first films ever produced, biopics have been structured roughly the same way every time. Most follow a "greatest hits" format, tracing the person's life from birth to death, highlighting the major events in their lives and typically offering a pop-psychology explanation for how they became who they were.
The problem with this approach is that it often simplifies the person's life, boiling them down to a few moments that only demonstrate their impact on history by confirming what audiences already know. An example of this is Taylor Hackford's Ray (2004), which, despite strong performances from Jamie Foxx, Regina King, and Kerry Washington, only reaffirms what audiences already know about R&B singer Ray Charles.
Andrei Rublev, director Andrei Tarkovsky's passion project, is loosely based on the life of Rublev (Anatoly Solonitsyn), a religious icon painter in medieval Russia. But rather than beginning at Rublev's birth and charting his entire life, Tarkovsky chooses to focus solely on a roughly ten year period, starting in 1400 with Rublev leaving a monestary with his fellow monks and artists Daniil (Nikolai Grinko) and Kirill (Ivan Lapikov). The three wander the Russian countryside, as the film is divided into various episodes ranging from Rublev's tutelage under Theophanos the Greek (Nikolai Sergeyev) to the savage raid of a town by a band of Tatars. Through it all, Rublev grows both as an artist and as a believer, the tragedies only strengthening his craft and his faith.
The operative term in the film's plot description is "loosely based." Tarkovsky did frame his film with events from the real Rublev's life, but his ultimate goal was not fidelity to his biography. Instead, Tarkovsky sought to make a film that spoke to Russia's religious history, directly flying in the face of the Soviet Union's official atheist stance. It's this that makes the film unique among biopics: it's less about the person's life than using them as a symbol of current social malaise.
More after the jump.