The Color of Pomegranates
Directed by Sergei Parajanov
The life of revered the 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova. 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. 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 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.
★★★★★ review by Matthew on Letterboxd
I feel like writing a review for this would be so pointless. It's the purest visual experience cinema has to offer, and to attempt to put words to it would only tarnish that.
★★★★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.
★★★★★ 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 Peter Labuza on Letterboxd
In the context of 1968, you had films of Third World resistance like The Battle of Algiers, The Hours of the Furnaces, and The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach. But you have literally nothing else in the history of cinema that even functions anything like the stylistic conception of The Color of Pomegranates. And all for the better that it's uniqueness is a portrait of resistance.
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