The Color of Pomegranates: Parajanov Formalism

Sayat-Nova

The Color of Pomegranates is a dreamlike, poetic film of Parajanov formalism. It attempts to depict the life of the Armenian singer Sayat-Nova through pictures that his life and poetry inspired the film. Born Haroutiun Sayakian, people know him as Sayat-Nova or “King of Songs.” Raised in the Georgian city of Tiflis, like Parajanov himself, he speaks Persian, Azerbaijani, and Armenian. It made him famous outside the Armenian community, being called to serve as Musician and Court Poet by Heracles II. He is the 18th-century king of Georgia. Additionally, Sayat-Nova falls in love with Princess Anna, the king’s sister. The king banishes him from the palace because of such action.

He spent the rest of his life continued to write music and poetry as a monk. For Armenians, he was a martyr because the Russian invaders executed him after refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The film is immersed in religious iconography. In addition, it is a profound spiritual testament to Parajanov’s fascination with Armenian folk art and culture. Being a controversial work, it led to his arrest and imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag for four years. The Soviets insisted he was guilty of illegally selling icons and gold. He also committed “homosexual acts.” In reality, his only crime violates social realism principles in its bold surrealistic form and the choice of subject matter. Parajanov focused on the spirituality and ethnography of Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine. It is after Soviet cinema was propaganda for the regime’s ideological interests.

Restoration

In a modern restoration, the Parajanov formalism The Color of Pomegranates, performed by the L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in Italy, uses elements of Armenian and Russian sources. Nearly fifteen years after its first appearance, it is like the maker, being a hostage to Cold War tensions. The bad guys banned, re-cut, and smuggled the film into the West in a mediocre pirated version. The film becomes the cause rather than the work of art itself. News about Parajanov’s imprisonment and abuse made him increasingly a political problem, with supporters of artistic freedom worldwide lining up to protest.

Few people outside the Soviet Union had heard of its subject when the West first watched the film. So, a clear vision has a relationship with such a paragraph. However, it became clear when brocade, silk, and dagger roamed around with ashes and sackcloth. It is indeed a part of his love poem. What Parajanov did was adapt the style of the poet’s world, literally visualizing his image. Radically, he simplifies his life story and eliminates any narration or framing. The filmmaker’s use of actress Sofiko Chiaureli to play many androgynous roles, including poet as a youth, the poet’s beloved daughter, angel, nun, and white-faced pantomime, anticipates the use of multiple references.

The Paradigm

Parajanov opens The Color of Pomegranates with a formalism of a thorn cut with a picture of a pomegranate, soaking a white cloth with its juice, blood-red. The audience saw the dagger resting on this same stained cloth. A voice recited Sayat-Nova’s poem, saying he was a man whose soul was tormented. The pomegranate is a fertility symbol in Armenian mythology. It bears fruit. It is said that a ripe pomegranate contains 365 seeds, one seed for each day of the year. The thorn was Christ’s crown when he suffered on the cross. Both are inseparable, tightly bound by the image of bloodshed. The fate of the Armenian people is inevitable; there is only suffering and sacrifice. In the film, a priest wearing the black dress of the Armenian apostolic church says that heaven has considered sorrow to be the fate of humanity.

With Parajanov setting the camera from a distance, the monks gathered before him, robed in black, as shrouds fell to their knees. Everywhere there is disaster, darkness, and death. However, the feeling that the most significant disaster, the ultimate disaster, is still to come. In the life of director Parajanov, Sayat-Nova’s poetry and film narration are reflections of Armenia’s national identity. It is closely related to the Christian faith, as it became the first “nation” in the world to adopt the religion in 301. They became easy targets for conquest and invasion by their neighbors because most of the Muslim population surrounded the territory. The paradigm of Christianity, the description of Christ’s sufferings and subsequent salvation, was exacerbated by the Armenian genocide that fell at the hands of the Turks at the beginning of the last century. It is the essence of Armenian individuality.

Inspiration

According to Parajanov, his inspiration was seeing Andrei Tarkovsky’s debut feature in 1962, which he responded to as phenomenal, astonishing, unrepeatable, and beautiful. However, the film makes him do nothing without Ivan’s Childhood. Similarly, Tarkovsky has taken a relatively conventional Russian war story about a young, fearless military scout. Infused with great lyrics, the dream sequence uses imagery reminiscent of Freud and Fellini. After winning at the Venice Festival, the film quickly catapulted Tarkovsky into the ranks of international filmmakers.

While people have largely forgotten about the film, it is tempting to see the celebration of a grand 19th-century Ukrainian poet and painter as prophetic for the young Parajanov’s career. He remained in Kyiv, became home to one of the Soviet Union’s premier film studios, and graduated directing, making four distinctive features of what Soviet cinema produced in the 1950s and early 60s. In the following years, he will dismiss his output from these years as “garbage” and discourage interest in him, not wanting conventional films to tarnish the new identity he has forged by making what people perceive as his first “real” masterpiece. The film is evocatively familiar with the title Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors.

The Testament

While Parajanov shot the film in Georgia and Armenia, The Color of Pomegranates reflects Parajanov’s formalism interest in returning to his Transcaucasian roots. After his arrest in Kyiv in 1973 and subsequent imprisonment on charges related to homosexuality, he would move permanently back to Tbilisi. Above all, his family is part of Georgia’s relatively old and sizeable Armenian community. In his youth, he studied dance and music at the state conservatory in the Georgian capital. However, perhaps more relevant to its cinematic output in the future are the antique sand and shops of the city, where his father worked as an appraiser, and the influence of his mother on traditional Caucasian cultural tastes.

Especially amid the swift currents of adult nationalism, unraveling Parajanov’s strands of identity is unavoidably tricky, as is the case with the filmmakers themselves. On the other hand, the film is a testament to his love for his culture and family. It is mourning over the passage of time, the destruction of ancient societies and traditions. However, it is also a celebration of beauty. The regular camera does not move; the actors are tableaus that move on his front. He poses strikingly as if he threads in a stunning Persian woven rug or ancient biblical illustration. His costume is a magnificent border robe, and the actors tug and move slowly in it as if moving underwater. Likewise, Armenia’s actual stone churches and monasteries serve as a backdrop, surrounded by green hills, wide-open spaces, and deep skies.

The Suffering

Parajanov constitutes a particular challenge to post-Soviet interpretation. His films variously use the visual and musical cultures of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, and Ukraine, albeit in eclectic and deeply personal ways, while seemingly far from Soviet aesthetic influences. He admits that he will never satisfy pure Armenian or Georgian culture while expressing special admiration for Pier Paolo Pasolini. Of all the comparisons he draws, The Color of Pomegranates, where he first discovered his unique style, must be reckoned as an aesthetic masterpiece. Apart from Parajanov, the fate of Sayat-Nova is not as important as poetry itself because it serves to remember and honor the faith and lives of those who came before.

Parajanov knew that people would curse him for his films. However, he is willing to sacrifice his safety to embody the beauty and traditions of his people in the film. Even after his release, he committed to his vision, creating more surreal ethnographic films, and retelling a Georgian folk tale. There is much fun in the pictures and story of the film for Parajanov. However, a large part of the creative process in the film is a sacrificial paradigm. The artist’s suffering seems essential to the film’s meaning; it could not have been made any other way. The film’s motivation seems to illustrate how an artist has died, but his inspiration is still eternal.

Bibliography

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