How do you go from rich cinematic intuition to stifled ceremonial posing? I don’t get it. Shadows is one of the most enthralling films I have seen, it’s just an endlessly spinning dance between the camera and a mystical world of song and suffering, spun in a way that took the essential sense of that world and both diffused it into the very air of the film and distilled it into the narrative of a young boy having the same experience as us, sensing a universe of veiled , infinite complexity in the air.
It was a multifaceted world of many allusions, but all of it was deftly integrated into the experience. You didn’t need separate keys. This is a notoriously difficult work, for a simple reason; you need a bunch of keys, and most of those are outside the film (it suffered at the hands of Soviet censors, no doubt, my guess however is that Parajanov’s authorial version would operate on the same principles).
It is everything that grates at me as outmoded and needless obfuscation in cinematic narrative. Allegory. Symbolism (the nagging notion that the pomegranates ought to ‘stand for something’). Cryptic dealings.
Instead of opening up our gaze to a world, it reduces to a set of paintings, supposedly that you have to decode. It is very much a presentation of cultural history, but at the expense of all the distinctly cinematic advantages of the medium.
This mode survives in a way in Peter Greenaway. But Greenaway works from Hamlet as his main reference, so all you need to know about the play is usually inside the play-within. This has no framework.
It gets a 3 from me.
But, maybe not from you. Mubi?
I haven’t seen Shadows of a Forgotten Ancestors, but I want to. My reaction to this film: I have no idea what it means, but it sure looked good—to the point where the former didn’t really matter as much. I need to see this again, though.
A genuine question: doesn’t good poetry (or poetic cinema) function in a similar fashion? How do you distinguish between “outmoded and needless obfuscation” from good poetry?
It does puzzle me a bit that Color of Pomegranates seems to be better-known and more acclaimed (perhaps because it’s better known) than Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors as I personally consider the latter film to be something like the Citizen Kane of my personal canon.
But it seems like you’re being a little harsh on Color. After all, a film can be anything as long as it has moving images. The film certainly doesn’t seem “outmoded” to me. It might feel a little contrived, but even then considering that it is highly original work, I think that it deserves recognition based on that premise alone. Uncompromising, intensely personal cinema doesn’t come along that often.
^^^yeah, it kind of exists in its own universe too much to be ‘dated’ although i get Chaos point about the highly symbolic films of the time but found C.O.P to be intensely cinematic.
i prefer Shadows too but that is partially because it is more accessible to an ignorant Westerner such as myself :-)
For one, It struck me that Parajanov approached Color of Pomegranates as icon paintings, hence the very different look and feel. I don’t see how this detracts from the film in any way.
It strikes me as outmoded narrative to have, or imply, hard , linear , oneway causality between images and the world of the film. Allegory is just a tool of limited possibilities – two layers, a narrative delivered by way of another and you can have fun with the overlay.
Good ‘poetry’ in film, in my view, is an ordinary world, usually it’s ordinary, even Solyaris or Marienbad, it’s still an ordinary world, it’s not a big leap to accept everything being where it is, so an ordinary world spun in a way that actually being there reveals the nature of what it means to. Inland Empire is perhaps the perfect example; the film could be made so that you had to surmise internal narrative from scattered keys and allusions, instead there’s nothing to decode, the film is the internal narrative of scary, sensual in-sight. You don’t need keys.
“Good ‘poetry’ in film, in my view, is an ordinary world”
Well, for one thing, remember that Paradjanov wasn’t working in an artistic vacuum. He was making films, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors and Color of Pomegranates, specifically in opposition to the prescribed “ordinary world” of Socialist Realism.
That is an aside into something altogether different.
Indeed, he was. And how different the two films. It baffles, the transition to Sayat Nova.
They’re different films driven by different ethnographies, but I don’t see them as all that discontinuous. I see Color of Pomegranates as more of a distillation and intensification of certain aspects of Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors, partly driven by artistic intentionality and partly driven by state interference.
The colors on the costumes change, the steps of the dance, all that.
That’s not what baffles me. How did so much energy and motion screech into a complete halt from one film to the next? Without rigorous life in the thing, the dance seems like affectation.
Ivan’s Childhood has one foot in the narrative of the studio system, but in retrospect it’s unmistakeably Tarkovsky puzzling about the same things as he ever did. You can see the organic evolution from that film to Rublev and so forth.
Shadows doesn’t prime you for the tableaux vivants of Color, no.
But I think that Shadows certainly primes a viewer for the pageantry of the later films, no? I agree Shadows engages in a much wider variety of experimentation with mobile camera and framing and color on a scene to scene basis while Pomegranates commits to a longer, more intensive experimentation with framing and tableaux, and both movies, though different, produce exciting results, even if the viewer has no grounding in the cultural history that might provide a “key” to them. Sure wish there were a killer transfer of Pomegranates available that did as much justice to its colors and mis en scene as the Shadow remaster provided a few years ago.
I think so, Ben. A friend of mine calls Pomegranates an" illuminated manuscript film", by which he means that it’s done in a way which forces one to move from one relatively static tableau to another, so watching it is more like paging through an illustrated manuscript that it is the relatively continuous motions and narrative of a more conventional film.
Yeah, it’s a shame it hasn’t yet been made available in a better edition. I’d love to see it done right for Blu-ray. There’s still tons of great Soviet era films that only in barely serviceable version . . .if at all.
Here’s some keys:
Set in 18th century Armenia. The church is a large, dominating part of everyday life. They are the educators of the people, and also act as a local government.
Sayat Nova is the name of the poet that is the main character. His name means King of Songs, it was a self-proclaimed title. However, he became very famous when the Georgian sultan accepted him into his salon. Sayat Nova was a troubadour, a poet/lyricist, who improvised his songs while performing. Some of the songs are very famous and survive today.
Here’s a modern composition of one of his songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eXb2dteSFyk.
Take my word for it, it is very evocative even though it uses antiquated Armenian words.
The folk story is that he fell in love with one of the sultan’s wives, and pursued her in a forbidden love kind of situation, for which he was punished in later life by being outcasted.
You do not really need to know all this to understand the movie. There are three acts in the movie: the poet’s childhood, the love affair and the last years of the poet’s life. I say “poet” because the story is universal, especially the middle act.
Almost none of the symbols are culture specific (the fish for example), although I may be taking some of my knowledge for granted here. If you have specific questions, please ask.
I see it not only as an illuminated manuscript but also, fittingly, as poetic rather than prose cinema. A film of great originality. I don’t know why it would be outmoded, if anything it still opens avenues away from the worn narrative tradition. It’s striking aurally as well as visually. And it’s fared well enough in the latest Sight & Sound poll to make the top 100, one of the very few i was pleasantly surprised to see included (Touki Bouki another). You can see its influence on Makhmalbaf’s excellent Gabbeh, though Paradjanov was right to warn of imitation. It is his own vision. There are not many films that seem strikingly original in cinema history- and some like Ivan the Terrible and Loyal 47 Ronin (something of a beached whale) were examples that cinema didn’t follow.
if we had 10 films for a capsule for aliens, it’s one i would pick.
This is a notoriously difficult work, for a simple reason; you need a bunch of keys, and most of those are outside the film
Instead of opening up our gaze to a world, it reduces to a set of paintings, supposedly that you have to decode.
A film whose only value is in that it must be “decoded” with keys from outside itself would surely result in a predictable series of events which could be foreseen by knowing the code in the first place, rendering the resultant work unnecessary and redundant.
Is this really an accurate summation of The Colour of Pomegranates, a film which is in essence a biopic of a poet?
Do you really think that there is no aesthetic value in the mise-en-scène, in the way the story is told?