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This neglected but fascinating region with high mountains and beautiful scenery, between the Black and Caspian seas, has produced some extraordinary and exceptional films. Most essential first here, the rest in year order. Sorry, I have let this list slip, will update to include more recent films soon.
I thought we already had a Caucasus list here, we do have some that cover the area along with others, but i can’t locate one on the Caucasus alone. Turkey is on the edge of the Southern Caucasus, and to the North, Russia; here it’ll just be Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, indigenous directors like Paradjanov, Kalatozov, Iosseliani, Abuladze, Peleshian and a couple of films by Atom Egoyan who is of Armenian heritage. I’m not including films set elsewhere, for instance Iosseliani’s French films, and Kalatozov’s in Russia (The Cranes are Flying…) and Cuba (I am Cuba), but i am including films by other Europeans like Since Otar Left and Journey to Armenia.
4 important directors:
One of the 20th century’s greatest masters of cinema, Sergei Parajanov in the 1960s made two masterpieces in a row: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964) and Color of Pomegranates (1968). Both established him as a phenomenon with no analogy in the art world.
Parajanov was born on the January 9, 1924, in Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR, to an ethnic Armenian family. His father was Iosif Parajanian and his mother was Siranush Bejanian. In 1945 Parajanov traveled to Moscow and entered the directing department at VGIK, one of the oldest and most highly respected film schools in Europe, and studied under director Igor Savchenko and later Aleksandr Dovzhenko in Kiev, Ukraine. Parajanov moved to Kiev, where after a few documentaries (Dumka (1957), Zolotye ruki (1957), Natalya Ushviy (1957)) and several narrative films (Andriesh (1954), Ukrainskaya rapsodiya (1961), Tsvetok na kamne (1962)) he created the magnificent “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”, which won countless international awards, including the British Academy Award. The success of “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” was compared to that of the super influential Battleship Potemkin (1925); however, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” didn’t conform to the standards of Soviet cinema and Parajanov was immediately blacklisted.
He left for Armenia to film the documentary Hakob Hovnatanyan (1967), and then in 1968 he created “Sayat Nova”, his masterpiece. “Sayat Nova” was banned by Soviet authorities, re-edited and re-named “The Color of Pomegranate”. In December of 1973, the Soviet government arrested Parajanov and sentenced him to five years in hard labor camps. A large group of world-famous artists, filmmakers and activists protested and Parajanov was released, but only after having served four horrific years in the Soviet penal system. Poet Louis Aragon’s petition to the Soviet government was instrumental in securing Parajanov’s release.
Parajanov returned to Tbilisi, but the regime continued to keep him away from cinema. During and after prison Paradjanov created extraordinary collages, drawings and numerous other art works, now frequently exhibited worldwide. In 1984, however, political conditions started to change and, with the help of Georgian intellectuals, the government allowed Parajanov to create the multi-award winning Ambavi Suramis tsikhitsa (1984) – 15 long years after “Sayat Nova”.
In 1986 Parajanov made yet another multi-award winning film, Ashug-Karibi (1988), based on a tale by Mikhail Lermontov, and dedicated the film to his friend Andrei Tarkovsky. His stay in prison had crushed his health, however, and he passed away in July of 1990, leaving his final masterpiece “The Confession” unfinished. It survives in its original negative in Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992) by his closest friend Mikhail Vartanov.
Parajanov’s friends and and colleagues such as Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi, Alberto Moravia, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni and Bernardo Bertolucci were among those who grieved his death, yet today Sergei Parajanov remains not very widely known. Few who saw “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” or “Color of Pomegranate” have not been forever influenced by the unseen beauty created by the genius. —parajanov.com
Otar Iosseliani was born on February 2nd, 1934, in Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia, where he studied at the State Conservatory and graduated in 1952 with a diploma in composition, conducting and piano. In 1953 he went to Moscow to study at the faculty of mathematics, but in two years he quit and entered the State Film Institute (VGIK) where his teachers were Alexander Dovzhenko and Mikhail Chiaureli. While still a student, he began working at the Gruziafilm studios in Tbilisi, first as an assistant director and then as an editor of documentaries. In 1958 he directed his first short film Akvarel. In 1961 he graduated from VGIK with a diploma in film direction. When his medium-length film Aprili (1961) was denied theatrical distribution, Iosseliani abandoned filmmaking and in 1963-1965 worked first as a sailor on a fishing boat and then at the Rustavi metallurgical factory. Aprili was finally released only in 1972. In 1966 he directed his first feature film Giorgobistve that was presented at the Critics’ Week at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival and won a FIPRESCI award there. When his 1976 film Pastorali was shelved for a few years and then granted only a limited distribution, Iosseliani grew sceptical about getting any artistic freedom in his homeland. Following Pastorali ’s success at the 1982 Berlin Film Festival, the director moved to France where in 1984 he made Les Favoris de la Lune. The film was distinguished with a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. Since then Venice became a showcase for all his subsequent films. In 1989 he again received a Special Jury Prize for Et la Lumiere Fut and in 1992 the Pasinetti Award for Best Direction for La Chasse aux Papillons. After the disruption of the Soviet Union he continued to work in France where he made the documentary Seule Georgie (1994) which was followed by the sardonic and allegorical Brigands – Chapitre VII (1996).
Iosseliani’s films are characterised by impish wit, a light touch, a dislike of bureaucracy, regulations, pomposity and greedy consumerism, love of wine, women and music, and an urge for freedom. In There was a Singing Blackbird, a percussionst in an orchestra manages to fit womanising and the good life into gaps in performances when he’s not required, to the despair of the conductor. In Gardens in Autumn, we have Michel Piccoli playing the mother of a minister of state who is sacked but comes to enjoy other pleasures instead of the pomp of office. In Monday Morning, the protagonist thinks nothing of heading off to Venice, leaving behind him the cares of work and family.
Best known internationally for his allegorical, politically charged film Repentance (1987), Georgian filmmaker and screenwriter Tenghiz Abuladze specialized in carefully crafted films that focused on relationships between people, without moral judgment or sociopolitical analysis.
Abuladze was born in Kutaisi, Georgia, back when the country was a state of the Soviet Union. In the 1940s, he studied at the Shota Rustaveli Theatrical Institute and after graduation decided to study film at the Moscow Film Institute with his close friend Revaz Chkheidze. The two studied under Sergei Yutkevich and Mikhail Romm. Abuladze and Chkheidze graduated in 1952. Their diploma film was a biography of Georgian composer Dimitry Arakishvili. As with his subsequent solo work, Abuladze’s first professional feature, made in collaboration with Chkheidze, centered on Georgian life. A simple tale of a group of children who adopt a charcoal merchant’s lost jackass and then go to court when he wants it back, Magdan’s Donkey earned a special prize for short films at the Cannes Film Festival in 1966. Abuladze’s first solo effort, Chuzhiye Deti/Someone Else’s Children (1958) was a nearly silent affair that provided an insightful, but almost melodramatic look at a Georgian family.
From a technical view, Abuladze was a meticulous craftsman, who laid out his storylines in such great detail that he knew to the subtlest twitch and the finest detail exactly what he wanted from his actors and his production crew. He first gained international prominence in 1978 with highly acclaimed, multi-award-winning The Wishing Tree and in 1980 earned the designation of National Artist of the Soviet Union. By far his most important film was his last, Repentance (1986). Using an almost surrealistic mixture of fantasy, drama, and satire, it strongly criticizes Stalin’s atrocities in Georgia, but more importantly, it is a powerful indictment against totalitarianism in general. It was originally made for Georgian television, but then changed into a feature. Though it was completed in 1984, the Soviet government considered the subject matter too critical and banned it for two years. Repentance was nominated for a “Best Foreign Film” Oscar in 1987. In 1988, Abuladze received the Lenin Prize. Between 1990 and 1991, he served as a member of Soviet Parliament. —allmovie
Artavazd Ashoti Peleshyan (born November 22, 1938, Leninakan) is an Armenian director of film-essays, a documentarian in the history of film art and a film theorist. However his work unlike Maya Deren’s is not avant-garde nor tries to explore the absurd, is not really art for the art’s sake like Stan Brakhage’s but should be rather acknowledged as a poetic view on life embedded on film. In the words of the filmmaker Sergei Parajanov, his is “one of the few authentic geniuses in the world of cinema”. Renowned Master of the Armenian SSR arts title (1979).
He is renowned for developing a style of cinematographic perspective known as distance montage, combining perception of depth with oncoming entities, such as running packs of antelope or hordes of humans. Characteristic to him is also the use of archive footage alongside with his own shots and, especially, fast intercutting between these two. Telephoto lens are often used to get “candid camera” shots of people engaging in mundane tasks.
His films are on the border between documentary and feature, rather reminding of the work of such avant-garde filmmakers as Bruce Connor than of any kind of conventional documentaries. Most of his films are short, the longest being 60 minutes and the shortest 6 minutes long. His films feature no dialogue; however, music and sound effects play nearly as important a role in his films as the visual images in contributing towards the artistic whole. Nearly all of his films were shot in black and white.
Already his student films he made while he was studying at VGIK were awarded several prizes. As for now, 12 films by Peleshyan are known to exist. The Beginning (Skizbe) (1967) is a cinematographical essay about the October Revolution of 1917. One of the unique visual effects used in this film is achieved by holding snippets of film still on one frame, then advancing only for a second or two until again pausing on another, resulting in a stuttering visual effect. Other important films by him are We (Menq) (1967, a poetically told history of Armenia and its people and Inhabitant (Obitateli) (1970), a reflection on the relationship between wildlife and humans. Artavazd Peleshian’s most brilliant film is The Seasons of the Year (1975), exquisitely lensed by cinematographer Mikhail Vartanov, is an outstanding look at the contradiction and harmony between the humans and nature. http://www.parajanov.com/seasons.html. It was the last collobaration of Peleshian and Vartanov, Armenia’s two most important documentary auteurs; they first worked together on The Autumn Pastoral (1971).
Peleshyan is also the author of a range of theoretical works, such as his 1988 book Moyo kino (My Cinema).
Being from a country far away from internationally significant cinema circles, Peleshyan’s efforts were never been properly recognized by world cinema until very recently. After the fall of Soviet Union, he has been able to make two more short films, Life (1993) and The End (1994). He is now living in Moscow. His most recent film was edited at the ZKM | Karlsruhe Film Institute in 2005-2006 and has not yet been released. —Wikipedia
Parajanov’s Ukrainian-set Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a must-see too. The Iranian film Bashu the Little Stranger may also be of interest as much of it takes place in the Northern region of Gilan, which is next to the Caspian Sea and is thus culturally contiguous with the Caucasus (thanks to Chai Wallah for that info).
Beyond films, anyone interested in Armenian art may find www.armsite.com a useful site
pioneering colour photography (Sergei Prokudin-Gorski):
List below in year orderRead less