Movie Poster of the Week: Sergei Parajanov at 100

For Sergei Parajanov's centenary, a look back at the posters for the films of the great Armenian director.
Adrian Curry

Above: Soviet-export poster for Ashik Kerib (Sergei Parajanov & Dodo Abashidze, USSR, 1988). Design by “LEM.”

On January 9 of this year, the legendary, often beleaguered and utterly sui generis filmmaker Sergei Parajanov would have turned 100 years old. Parajanov was born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1924 to Armenian parents, just seven years after the Russian Revolution. He died in Yerevan, Armenia, in 1990 at the age of 66, only a year before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. His life and career were very much defined by the strictures of the USSR, including four years spent in a labor camp in the mid-’70s on trumped-up charges of crimes against the state, and numerous personal projects that were banned, censored, or shut down by Soviet film administrations.

One of the world’s most exceptional filmmakers, Parajanov managed to make only eight feature films in his four-decade-long career. His first four socialist realist features were made at the Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kyiv and, as Redmond Bacon wrote on Notebook, “feel like the work of a completely different director... flattened for general Soviet consumption, working from State-approved scripts and dubbed into Russian from Ukrainian and Moldovan.” But with the earth-shattering Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors in 1965, followed by the utterly extraordinary The Color of Pomegranates in 1969, Parajanov announced himself as a cinematic stylist of the first order.

Surprisingly, yet perhaps because of the vagaries of distribution of his films, Parajanov has not been well served by his poster designers. As I wrote fifteen years ago in one of my earliest Movie Poster of the Week columns, “if ever there was a director whose work should be represented by magnificent posters, it is Sergei Parajanov.” His later films especially are a designer’s gift: composed of gorgeous tableaux of esoteric imagery derived from Armenian, Georgian, Ukrainian, and Azerbaijani folklore, and yet only a handful of comparably inventive and aesthetically pleasing Parajanov posters exist.

The exception to the rule is Parajanov’s astonishing Carpathian fable Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. It was a sensation across much of the world, winning a number of international awards, and for that reason it is the one film of his that has a wide variety of stylish poster designs. The US poster by Lee Reedy and Dot Graphics is, to my knowledge, the only great US poster for a Parajanov film.

I’m shocked that the fan art revolution in movie poster design hasn’t thrown up more contemporary graphic masterpieces for these films, though maybe Parajanov’s films are just not as well known among artists as they should be. That said, the posters that do exist should all be of interest to Parajanov fans, and there are definitely some gems among the chaff, like the Soviet export poster above for his final completed film, Ashik Kerib (1988) which is one of my favorites. So, without further ado, here are posters for all eight of Parajanov’s features in chronological order.

Above: Soviet poster for Andriesh (1954, co-directed with Yakov Bazelyan).

Above: Soviet posters for The First Lad (1959).

Above: Soviet Russian- and Ukrainian-language posters for Ukrainian Rhapsody (1961).

Above: Soviet Russian-language poster for Flower on the Stone (1962).

Above: Soviet Ukrainian-language poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: Soviet Ukrainian-language poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: Soviet Ukrainian-language poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: French-language Soviet-export poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: French posters for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: Yugoslavian poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965).

Above: US poster for Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) designed by Lee Reedy and Dot Graphics.

Above: Soviet poster for The Color of Pomegranates (1969).

Above: Japanese poster for The Color of Pomegranates (1969).

Above: Japanese chirashi for The Color of Pomegranates (1969).

Above: French 2014 re-release poster for The Color of Pomegranates (1969).

Above: 2005 fan art by Aramazt Kalayjian for The Color of Pomegranates (1969).

Above: Georgian poster for The Legend of the Suram Fortress (1985).

Above: Soviet-export French-language poster for The Legend of the Suram Fortress (1985)

Above: French poster for The Legend of the Suram Fortress (1985).

Above: Ukrainian-language poster for Ashik Kerib (1988).

Above: poster for a 2019 Paris exhibition of Parajanov's drawings and storyboards.

Above: Banner for the centenary of Parajanov’s birth from the Sergey Parajanov Museum in Yerevan, Armenia.

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