In the spirituality of the Christian East, icons are sometimes described as "windows into heaven." Even when they depict earthly events, their stylized approach is meant to evoke transcendent realities. Such transcendence in art is both the subject and the method of Andrei Tarkovsky's haunting, challenging Andrei Rublev, which takes as its point of departure the life of a 15th-century monk who was Russia's greatest iconographer.
Neither biography nor historiography, Andrei Rublev is a collection of loosely related episodes touching on crises of faith, brutality and chaos, and finally the response of the artist and believer. With its medieval setting, black and white cinematography, deliberate pacing, and serious, even grim exploration of ultimate issues, Andrei Rublev is like a Russian variation on The Seventh Seal, with sex and violence. Yet where the unbelieving Bergman's characters are for the most part isolated any source of meaning or grace and find ultimate answers only in death, Tarkovsky the Orthodox convert allows for community, penance, faith, and redemption.
What is the answer to the cynicism of Theophanes, the naturalism of the carnal witch, the brutality of the Tatars? It is not an idea; it is nothing that can be expressed in words. It is something that can only be glimpsed, through a glass darkly, or a window into heaven. The notion of art as a "religious experience" is sometimes bandied about too freely. Tarkovsky is one of a handful of filmmakers for whom this ideal was no cheap or desanctified metaphor, but literal truth.
– Steven D. Greydanus