Monday, September 05, 2005

The Color of Pomegranates (Paradjanov, 1968)

We are told at the beginning of Sergei Paradjanov’s The Color of Pomegranates that the film that is to follow will not be the recreation of a life’s story, but rather the artistic expression of a poet’s inner struggles and turmoil. Furthermore, we are told that this will be done employing the symbolism and allegory of medieval Armenia.

All righty then.

What follows is a film that takes small snippets of poetry and then uses a collage of meticulously composed, ornate shots, as well as human scenery (it would be inaccurate to call them ‘actors’) in order to evoke various stages of the life of an historical figure, apparently of some importance in Russia if you are hip to the retro troubadour scene. I did not know anything about Sayat Nova before I watched The Color of Pomegranates. After watching the film, I still do not know anything about him, apart from the fact that he apparently died horribly amongst lit candles and a flurry of chickens. Oh, wait … that’s probably that wicked medieval Armenian symbolism and not a true reflection of reality. Never mind. So, indeed, I know absolutely nothing about Sayat Nova, even after watching an entire film devoted to his life, apart from the fact that at some point he died. Which I would have assumed anyway, because as far as I know, the world is completely bereft of medieval Armenians. In fact, truth be told, the only reason I can even tell you that the subject of this film was named Sayat Nova is that I am reading it directly off of the summary on the Netflix envelope.

All of this rambling has a point. There is much to admire in the way that Paradjanov has attempted to create a film devoid of plot and characters. Indeed, there are individual moments of great beauty and at least one satirical moment (involving sheep in a church) that is worthy of Bunuel. However, in the absence of traditional narrative elements, I look to a filmmaker to have a firm grasp on his selected themes and expect him to deliver evocative imagery as an alternate method of achieving the end goal – to deliver an experience that engages, entertains and enlightens. The Color of Pomegranates falls short on all three counts. Indeed, if we look to this film as an expression of how one great artist saw the world, then he must have viewed his fellow humans as pawns living a life of drudgery, going through the motions of love, child-rearing and spirituality. Each and every human we see amidst the cavalcade of seemingly arbitrary imagery moves and performs with all the animation of the figures in one of those giant Swiss clocks.

Paradjanov’s problem is not that he has attempted to forego traditional narrative elements, but rather that he has opted to put the full weight of his themes on imagery and symbolism that is only occasionally evocative. The result is a film that may be inspired by a great man, but does little to convey that greatness to the contemporary viewer. As much as I admire the director’s aspirations, I am deeply disappointed by the film’s lack of purpose.



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