Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

“…and the drowned”

‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’, directed by Sergei Parajanov in 1965, is a Ukrainian movie that follows the life of a farmer in a small Hutsul village. Ivan, played by Ivan Mykolaichuk falls for a girl called Marichka who is a member of a rival family. Marichka dies in a tragic accident and Ivan goes into mourning before meeting a second girl called Palagna who he marries. Ivan is still obsessed by the loss of Marichka, however, and the marriage is unsuccessful, so Palagna turns to a local magician for help. It’s a rich and unusual film. The symbolism and cultural alienation make it a difficult movie to grasp, as though Parajanov is purposefully intending to be obscure. The traditionalism of the folkloric imagery in the film is balanced by the way Parajanov swings and sweeps his camera around the scenes, and the way he uses colour. The innovative and unusual use of film technology seems to complement the old-fashioned, almost anthropological heritage of the set design and costumes. The effect this left me with was that of time travel. Parajanov avoidance of any narrative or visual characteristics of the documentary genre and his embracing of a new and distinctive style, mean that you are already unsettled, almost as though you have accidentally stumbled on the past. Similarly, his use of colour, bright and vivid in the beginning but fading into muted tones during the period of Ivan’s mourning, adds to this feeling of becoming involved with the psychology of the past, as well as the stories.

Would I recommend it? Yes – I’d compare it with Miklós Jancsó’s approach to filming the past, especially in films such as ‘Red Psalm’ or ‘The Red and the White’. There are also touches of Tarkovsky here, particularly with how Parajanov uses the techniques of cinema to psycho-analyse rather than simply to present the past.

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