The Color of Pomegranates

The life of revered the 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova (Vilen Galstyan). Portraying events in the life of the artist from childhood up to his death, the movie addresses in particular his relationships with women, including his muse (Sofiko Chiaureli). The production tells Sayat-Nova's dramatic story by using both his poems and largely still camerawork, creating an impressionistic work.

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  • ★★★★ review by Robert Beksinski on Letterboxd

    It's no wonder this film divides audience, and not just any audience but even the most open minded of the art house crowd. Also after now seeing all of Parajanov's released (and intact) films, I find myself quite surprised that Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors to be his most straightforward and plot simple film (even though that in itself is not an accurate description of the film). Normally, even I would not go for this kind of film. I've had difficulty in the past critiquing and appreciating abstract and avant garde cinema (including Parajanov's later efforts, post-imprisonment). But for some reason this one worked for me. I wouldn't go as far as to say it is one of the greatest cinematic achievements I have ever seen as stated by some of the film's most avid fans including Michelangelo Antonioni but on a strictly visual level I was pleased throughout.

    The art of surrealism can simply express our eternal feelings and emotions, it can also be our dreams and fantasies materialized and it does not have to always carry some hidden internal message. Surrealism can be just pure absurdity and nothing more, it can be this because no rules or boundaries can hold back such an art movement that has evolved over this past near century since its conception. However I always feel that Parajanov's brand of surrealism to be hiding significant meanings within its symbolism and I have yet to ever crack those open to find out what is underneath. Thus I normally stop trying (very early on since I expected this) and just enjoy Parajanov's living paintings. He is the only director I know that honestly paints with his camera. Think of him as a great renaissance and expressionist painter forming his tableaux with staged actors, sets, and costumes rather than paint and canvas. His visuals are undeniably spectacular and seemingly always engaging.

    As far as plot in a non-narrative film is concerned, the film does rely on symbols (which I have stated I was not able to obtain) and also a visual progression of images to represent a vague story. Now this vague form of storytelling I did every now and then understand given that I knew the film was an experimental biopic of sorts about the life of famed Armenian poet Sayat-Nova. So it makes sense of the progression of images that begin with a boy's curiosity leading into lustful temptation of man, religious retreat (equipped with a sheep's following too), marriage and death as well. An entire cycle of life encapsulated in a surreal montage of internal emotion. I can clearly see how this film is not for everyone and hell I am not even sure it is for me but based solely upon Parajanov's unique imagery, it gained my fascination and attention throughout the runtime.

  • ★★★★★ review by Edgar Cochran on Letterboxd

    Sayat Nova is two things for me: the life stages of a poet's life interpreted subjectively and visually rather than literally (through a straightforward narrative), and the representation of the Armenian culture in violent times, again seen through the eyes of the poet. Each stage of the film depicts the poet's life: his growth, his poetry depicting what his eyes saw about his mother Armenian culture, his life in a monastery, his discovery of eroticism, his immersion in literature, his death, everything with interruptions of Armenia's persecution.

    Having troubles with the film because of its completely abstract and unexplained imagery? Fear not, because they mean whatever they mean to you. Think of poetry: the original author is thinking of something and feeling emotions when writing his/her poetry; however, no matter how clearly he/she wants to transmit them through graphic explanations or literary embellishment, you'll never think nor feel exactly what the author did. That is because poetry, like all arts including cinema, speak to all people in different ways, and maybe none at all.

    Let me state an example: The red juice of a cut pomegranate is spilled over a cloth, and the juice draws the shape of the boundaries of the Kingdom of Armenia, which dates back from 321 BC to 428 AD. My dear reader, please remember that poetry is interpreted with the eyes of the reader/observer, and not of the writer. If the poet wanted to transmit his feelings literally, he would do it. The symbols mean what you want them to mean, using as much as you want of the cultural and historical knowledge you have at your disposal. So let's just take THIS SCENE as my second and most important example. I made it whatever I wanted it to be. He holds two cups: earth and grains, so the earth is presented as the source of food (the Armenian culture is known for having a strong attachment to the soil/earth from which everything grows). An importance is also given to the animal creatures of the earth and the bond born between humans and animals derived from their relationships, like domestication, farm use or breeding, implied by the cane he is holding with the chicken. The skull means death, maybe an invasion process, because the skeleton is clothed. The candle means fire, and the white rose symbolizes beauty, so the white rose approaching the candle means that beauty in the world was about to die. However, the candle is transformed into another white rose, implying that beauty indeed has a bigger human transcendence and importance than violence and destruction. The lace: notice that the woman and the man wear the same clothes, except for the lace. That simply symbolizes love. The shell means the eroticism I mentioned up there, because the same shell is seen in a woman's breast beforehand. Finally, the book suspended and changing pages is shown the whole 2 minutes, so maybe it means that his ambition was to capture as much as possible from his own experiences and immortalize it through literature (which indeed happened).

    But again, art and poetry are a homework of the heart!

    A cultural collage of colossal allegorical meaning; an almighty imagery and a traditional musical score create and absorbing inner world of thousands of different perspectives about the same elements of life and Nature themselves. Extraordinary triumph for the history of cinema thanks to Parajanov, the master of visual artistry.

    100/100

  • ★★★★★ review by Graham Williamson on Letterboxd

    Part of 30 Countries 2017. Today: Armenia!

    So what is it?

    I don't know.

    That's a bit of a cop-out. You watched it.

    I know, but there's this quality about it that defies description. And I know I write criticism, so I shouldn't say that. But have you seen this thing?

    Well, yes, I'm your brain. Let's take things step by step. Have you seen any other films by this director?

    Yes - the first time I did 30 Countries, I saw Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which is also by Sergei Parajanov.

    What did you think of it?

    I found it bewildering and beguiling. I found this even more bewildering and even more beguiling.

    But why? It's only a biopic, isn't it?

    Well, yes, but there hasn't been a biopic like this before or since. It uses the framework of moving through the central character's life to dramatise the imagery and ideas in his poetry, as well as explore the world he lived in. Its imagery is pre-cinematic, flat tableaus that reminded me of Giotto or Byzantine frescos more than it does anything that's been put into a camera. It has astonishing large-scale fantasy sequences that aren't contextualised as fantasies. Did the poet Sayat Nova really nail books to the roof of his school? It seems unlikely, and you're meant to view it as unlikely. It's also presented as being completely real to him.

    So it's a biopic of the imagination, like I'm Not There.

    I love I'm Not There, but this makes I'm Not There look like A Beautiful Mind.

    Did it remind you of any other film?

    Not a film, but - you remember that Tony Kaye Dunlop advert? There was always a rumour that he'd done a full four-minute version of that, one which lasted for the whole of the Velvet Underground song it uses, but it got cut down. I'd always wanted to see that, and now I feel like I've got a full feature film of it.

    That sounds strange. Does it work?

    You'll have to watch it to find out.

    I'm your brain. I watched it with you.

    I'm not sure you were there at all.

  • ★★★★★ review by VLxx on Letterboxd

    For Beauty, Poetry, Life, God and Spirit. The frustration one might feel is simply substantive part of the experience - after all you can see how the world of beauty repels our poet; there's so much there but all he can think of is his weariness and his tragedy, how life happens without him really being part of it and still this is all the reflection of his soul. Our souls can be beautiful and full but only rarely do we notice it; our focus seems to be on something else, reaching for the stars, whatever that means. I don't think he is ever on the same frame as the woman he loves? But still (look at their clothes or how Parajanov takes them to close-up!), they are the two sides of the same soul; soul is love? It is truly possible to be part of something even if it's hard to put one's hands on it; after all, that is how poetry comes alive, it's a desperate attempt to gain understanding from both the poet and the reader.

    After just seeing documentary of Bosch, it all just hits me even harder and I seem to understand what I once didn't; the more we struggle to find meanings from everything, the more we fall out of our experience (knowledge equals pain and rarely in art things are objective, that being said, we should still keep on searching but ourselves). Many great works of arts are created to something else (Rublev painted for God and so did Bach compose, Tarkovski was looking for Truth) and meanings, no matter how they seem to enlighten our wisdom and intelligence, can turn out as disappointments. (Could there be anything worse than one day realizing that you've seen all a work of art can offer?)

    The Color of Pomegranates can be interpreted in countless ways; it is pure aesthetic beauty, an attempt to understand one's roots, reflection of an artist's struggles and all of it at the same time. To my happiness, I'm starting to learn how to open myself for new experiences and Parajanov seems to welcome me.

  • ★★★★½ review by Filipe Furtado on Letterboxd

    An artist uses another to held celebration for all things he holds dear. Because sometimes the most essential political acts are the most personal.

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