At the age of eighty-three, Andrei Konchalovsky as a filmmaker has had a career consistent in a vibrant output. Since 1962, he’s written and/or directed thirty-five feature films, ranging from adaptations of Tchaikovsky ballets and Chekov plays to larger Hollywood pictures, like Tango and Cash. Yet no matter his age, he’s showed no signs of hitting the brakes on his uncontainable career. Lately, he’s landed in a kind of European arthouse mode — marked by evocative use of the box-like academy aspect ratio — that’s clearly revitalized him. His new film, Sin, sees the veteran Russian filmmaker tackling the mystery of genius with the sumptuous grit of a Michelangelo biopic. With its Renaissance-era recreation that looks both lavish and hard through the polarities of being set between the Italian alps and the everyday Florentine streets, Sin contains a visceral pull with its commanding of attention, even if it never coheres its full vision.
In many ways, the Great Artist portraiture that is Sin belongs to the subgenre of metaphor-for-directing, which feels right in for Konchalovsky’s wide range of experience trying to get movies made. Here, the work of art attempting to get made is a massive block of Carrara marble — not so affectionately deemed the “monster” by Michelangelo (Alberto Testone) and the quarry workers tasked with getting it down the mountain — that will hopefully be transformed into something beautiful and wonderous (whether it satisfies his wealthy financers or not).
As the movie opens — with an introduction to the disheveled, irritable sculptor raving to himself on the road to Florence as a nearby farmer stops and stares — Michelangelo is broken by years spent painting the Sistine Chapel in Rome, while a forty-two-statue project for the tomb of Pope Julius II (Massimo De Francovich) has barely begun. When Julius unexpectedly dies and the Medici family’s Leo X (Simone Toffanin) assumes the papacy, the artist — sometimes consumed with visions — finds himself straddling the demands of a neglected commission while currying favor with the newest power players. Not to mention having to navigate jealous peers, bothersome family members, threatening patrons and his own relentlessly questioning of the soul.
Since one of Konchalovsky’s first significant credits is cowriting Andrei Tarkovsky’s early masterpiece Andrei Rublev, a biopic on the titular icon painter, it’s tempting to view Sin and its mix of the earthy and the spiritual as his own directorial stamp on the complicated life of an iconic artist. That connection is readily apparent in the most riveting sequence of Sin: the hardscrabble work to transport Michelangelo’s precious marble “monster,” which could be a shout-out to the sweat and glory of the bell-casting scenes in Andrei Rublev.
Outside of that vivid rendering of a treacherous feat, however, Sin is only vaguely interesting as a burrowing into the mind of a tormented maestro. With some of its awkward supporting performances and compressed timeline, the back-and-forth nature doesn’t always amount to a window into its subject’s relationship to his divine talent. The general authenticity of the film’s production is a decided asset to the entire film, as is the totality of the expressive compositions Konchalovsky and cinematographer Aleksander Simonov serve up across an agelessly picturesque Italy. Sin may ultimately resemble something unformed, but, then again, even a raw block of marble boasts an impressive stature. Amorphous in much of its interests, Sin may try to mine the psychology within the agony of an artist, but it more often works better as a delivery system of the textural beauty of its period.
Sin is available in Virtual Cinemas