The Colour of Pomegranates

(Sayat Nova, Sergei Paradjanov, Russia, 1969)


It may seem strange to claim that one can love, and be utterly entranced by, a film that one hardly understands. But The Colour of Pomegranates is, at least for those viewers unversed in its subject matter, just such an experience. It also serves as an astonishing introduction to one of the cinema’s very greatest masters, Sergei Paradjanov.

Born in Georgia, Paradjanov’s life and work were severely hampered by injustices in the Soviet system. He made his masterpieces – including Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors (1964) and Ashik Kerib (1990) – in between prison sentences. And the films have come to us in various versions; a more complete version of The Colour of Pomegranates, closer to Paradjanov’s initial design, has become available in recent years.

No amount of background information, however, can prepare you for the experience of actually watching a Paradjanov film. Comparisons with the work of Andrei Tarkovsky, Carl Dreyer or Pier Paolo Pasolini give some sense of the spiritual intensity, dreamlike surrealism and formal rigour of his style.

But Paradjanov’s art is truly like no other – wild and excessive in its unleashing of music, colour and movement; calm and controlled in its Symbolist illustration of ancient poetic and religious texts.

The Colour of Pomegranates is nominally the life story of the 18th century Armenian poet and musician Sayat Nova ("king of songs"). Much of this is conveyed in breathtaking tableaux vivant – stylised arrangements of figures performing repeated, dance-like gestures, with accompanying sounds that are rich and sensual.

French director Jean-Luc Godard once suggested that every aspiring filmmaker should be made to walk twenty-five miles to see a Paradjanov film – so hit the road before you watch this one.

© Adrian Martin December 1992

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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