Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Colour of Pomegranates (1968, Soviet Union, Sergei Parajanov)

A loose biopic of the Armenian ashug (troubadour) and poet Sayat Nova, Parajanov's film is a beguiling, if sometimes frustrating film. It's defiantly unique in its scope and vision, which accounts for the difficulties Parajanov faced from the Soviet authorities, who not only banned the film in its original incarnation but also heavily re-edited it - no doubt for its supposed nationalist content and also the fact that Soviet audiences just wouldn't understand it. Parajanov himself was persecuted by the authorities, and was later imprisoned in a labour camp for four years on charges of rape and homosexuality.

'The Colour of Pomegranates' certainly requires the viewer's patience. Dispensing with formal cinematic narrative, Parajanov recreates the life of Sayat Nova by displaying his inner world. It's essentially visual poetry; the narrative driven by the scenes of abstract imagery and the native Armenian music. There is no dialogue, just voiceover (this and any titles are usually lines from Nova's poetry) and Parajanov uses a still camera which never moves. Parajanov makes no attempt at realism, but uses Armenian folklore to revive a national culture which was undermined and suppressed by the authorities.

Parajanov seems to portray Nova as an androgynous and mystical figure, using Sofia Chiaureli, a Georgian actress who was Parajanov's muse, plays Sayat Nova across five stages of his adult life, in contrast to using a boy and man to play Nova as a child and older man. Parajanov also obliquely accounts Nova's rise from humble carpet weaver to diplomat and King of Songs, and then his fall from favour at court, becoming a monk - it's only really reading up on Nova's biography that this all becomes apparent though. Parajanov has no interest in recreating Nova's world in a conventional fashion - by using elaborate music and dance, costumes and choreography, as well as a series of beautiful and enthralling images, 'The Colour of Pomegranates' is a justly acclaimed film, albeit one that really tests one's tolerance for art of the avante-garde kind. 4/5

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