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The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov) 1968


    I’ve always thought that I have a fairly high tolerance for obscure avant-garde filmmaking, but my reaction a movie like Sergei Paradjanov’s much-heralded The Color of Pomegranates reminds me just how closed-minded I can be. I realize when watching it that it’s a film of unusual artistic integrity. Its director has made no concessions to filmic conventions and audience expectation in metaphorically retelling the life of 18th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova. Filmed entirely with a still camera, Pomegranates makes no attempt to convey any sense of realism. Instead it lodges itself in what is presumably the mind of its subject. We see the world through the same skewed perspective that he presumably does. There’s a rough narrative here that traces his life from childhood to fame to retirement to death, but there’s little that seems insightful about what it was that created the poet’s outlook. The film suggests he was born with his imaginative way of perceiving life, and paints him as a natural-born artist. Throughout, we get intertitles that presumably give excerpts from Nova’s work, but they seemed to explain nothing to me (an example: “How am I to protect my wax-built castles of love from the devouring heat of your fires?”). As much as I can recognize the obvious effort and specific intent that went into the film, I am at a complete loss to comprehend what exactly it’s trying to say to me.


    Pomegranates is filled with images that are compelling, and feel vaguely evocative, but when you try to put your finger on what exactly is being evoked, you come up with nothing. As much as I try to appreciate the images for their own sake, I can’t help think that I’m missing the real reason that I should be watching. There are passing moments that are indeed beautiful, but mostly the film just feels weird. My complete lack of knowledge of the Armenian folklore that the film integrates so completely surely doesn’t help my reaction to it. As such, the characters, who gesticulate spasmodically in their odd costumes struck me much less as poetic conceits as villains escaped from a lost episode of “Scooby Doo”. If for many people these shots carry a great deal of power (and that’s probably the case, since they’re packed with religious iconography), I can only respond with jealousy at their comprehension of the film, since I constantly felt like an outsider looking in at a thing of obvious, but wholly unaffecting beauty.


* 1/2 


Jeremy Heilman