“In this healthy and beautiful life my share has been nothing but suffering. Why has it been given to me?”
‘The Colour of Pomegranates’, directed by Sergei Parajanov in 1969, is an unconventional Armenian biopic of Sayat-Nova. The movie tells the story of the 18th Century poet in a highly abstract and symbolic way, dividing his life into a series of episodes that are depicted using almost silent tableau. Each episode lingers on a painterly-like image, often with rhythmic movement or some kind of elemental or animal presence. It’s a difficult film to access, far harder than Parajanov’s earlier ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’, but it is one that contains many of the same elements, only extracted and refined to the point of maximum mythic intensity. This progression reminds me a little of Hungarian Miklós Jancsó’s almost contemporary progression from stark prison drama ‘The Round-Up’ in 1965, via ‘The Red and the White‘ in 1967 to purely allegorical ‘Red Psalm’ in 1972. Like Jancsó, Parajanov takes the core elements of cinema and mise-en-scene and creates such a condensed version that it transcends the idea of narrative and becomes something greater. In short, Parajanov taps into the essence of his subject by using the cinematic form to emulate his art. It’s a complex, rich and obscure film, a tone-poem and a series of still-life images combined. It’s not difficult to see the source of some of Andrei Tarkovsky’s imagery here, the same preoccupations with repetition and nature, the same use of animals to access some ancient idea of sacrifice, the same blend of pagan and religious. I didn’t understand ‘The Colour of Pomegranates’, but I think that’s the idea – it’s a film that only makes sense through someone’s lifetime.
Would I recommend it? Possibly – but only if you’re open to it. Like ‘Red Psalm’, the films I think I’d suggest as a double bill for it, it works best if you manage your narrative expectations and let yourself go.