Day 309: Sayat Nova (The Color of Pomegranates) 1969

Day 309
Saturday 5 May, 2018   11.20pm
‘What is the Colour of Pomegranates?’  2018

Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is #84 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and received just three votes in the Directors Poll.

Nonetheless, it’s an important film because it so out of the ordinary. Despite having the intention of being a biographical film about the poet Sayat Nova.

The inaugural Cinema Reborn Film Festival began last Thursday and is screening 16 films over five days. One of them is a film from Armenia which I had not been able to find a DVD or Laser Disc of, The Colour of Pomegranates (1968). And I had no idea, how I was going to find a copy. By luck, chance or fate, it’s one of the film in this mini-Festival and the print was glorious.

The film was introduced by someone who came across as an expert in USSR films, and spoke at length about director Parajanov’s life and some of the important features of the film. He mentioned that his occasional description of the film’s story didn’t contain SPOILERS because the film is so unconventional it’s pretty much SPOILER proof. Having seen the film I can see that his description was accurate. Even with the pre-film talk and the notes in the program I’m completely at sea with this film because I know nothing about Sayat Nova, a poet from the USSR. I don’t know in what period or era he lived or any of the poems or songs he wrote and  don’t know where to go to find reliable information on the internet about him, Parajanov or the film.

What I was left with in this reconstructed version of Parajanov’s original film were hundreds of images and a complete lack of understanding how these images figured in Sayat Nova’s life, beliefs or words, or what Parajanov had in mind while making and editing this film. The Colour of Pomegranates is as much a mystery to me as the most inexplicable film I’ve ever seen, before today. But the images, dozens of them, are imprinted in my brain forever, particularly the one on the leaflet of the Cinema Reborn’s program and the sodden books, and rooftops full of open books, pages drying in the light of day.

What did make an impact on me were:

images of books soaked in water; books drying on the roof of a building, the pages fluttering in the breeze; images of a beautiful young girl and later a beautiful woman; a bare left breast, the right breast covered by a shell; a dagger in the wall of a building, blood dripping out of the wall’s wound; a woman’s face made up in green; the words of Genesis where God created male and female human beings; the Lord’s Prayer – but not including “For thine is the kingdom…” etc.; the fact that the poet has a mind that is tortured; various songs; a figure who looks like what Jesus would look like if I think about how an Armenian filmmaker might depict Jesus, with a beard a white robe, amongst the final scenes, his white robe doused in buckets of blood; fourteen men munching noisily on apples; stylized tableaus of people frozen in their beautiful finery and various scenes that are acted out like a pantomine; words in subtitles; very few words spoken by any person, actor or character in the film.

– Philip Powers, May 2018

I have nowhere to go with this information, with these images. The pre-film talk and the notes in the program and the film itself are not enough to send me in any direction. I feel overwhelmed, confused, and a little irritated that the film means nothing more to me than a series of words and images. It’s unsatisfying to get to view the film once and not be able to explore it further. The film ended and I stopped dead in my tracks.

The above article written by Philip Powers is protected by copyright and under Fair Use, 10% of it may be quoted or reproduced, if properly credited, in another work. It may not be reproduced in its entirety in any form without the written consent of the author. The author can be contacted at © 2018