When Poetry Breathes Visuals
By Nicole Calogero
9th December 2022
Cinema: what a versatile industry. Capable of producing both for the mainstream and the underground. Behind the blockbusters and classics, the big screen conceals countless hidden gems. A film that deserves to be seen - even for the aesthetic alone - is The Colour of Pomegranates by Soviet director Sergei Parajanov.
The adjective ‘experimental’ is an understatement when referring to The Colour of Pomegranates. Indeed, the aesthetic and atmospheric components of this film are truly worthy of being called an unsung masterpiece within the genre of the avant-garde. The focus on poetic expression forces the audience to concentrate, and therefore think outside the box. Parajanov skilfully entices the audience through focussing on the visual, rather than a conventional linear narrative approach. Ultimately, such a choice has the effect of lingering in the memory of the viewer, and upon first experiencing this movie, it does not pass unnoticed. As much as The Colour of Pomegranates is an excellent watch, I would not recommend doing so with the intention of relaxing because the structure of this movie requires constant attention.
Released in 1969, The Colour of the Pomegranates is an offspring of an era when the Soviet government actively subsidised film production and other art forms resulting in the genre of ‘Soviet Realism’. Thus, we have countless movies from the sixties and seventies which are usually coated in a certain poetic spirit, and look no further than Parajanov’s masterpiece for a movie that directly deals with poetry. Parajanov, through outstanding visuals, retells the life of celebrated 18th century Armenian poet Haratyun Saratyan, better known as Sayat-Nova. Important moments including childhood, monastic retreat, and his death are grouped into chapters, and every movement reminisces paintings alongside the innumerable hidden symbols belonging to Armenian culture. Parajanov beautifully manages to achieve this visual coordination with near-absent dialogue; a testament to his skill. Therefore, the audience, whether an expert of Armenian culture or a first time viewer, is forced to wonder: what exactly is Parajanov conveying? In my opinion, the beauty of The Colour of Pomegranates lies in this constant contemplative ambiguity.
Interestingly even the exposition of the film warns the audience not to expect a conventional movie, and honestly, this sets the mood and atmosphere without further preparation because the audience is already exposed to its enigma. The first object seen in the film is a manuscript, signalling how literature plays a formative role in both the development of Sayat-Nova, as well as his significance in world literature. In The Colour of Pomegranates, images do the job of dialogue, therefore there are no fixed interpretations.
Each chapter deserves a review alone, which includes celebrated scenes such as the iconic Angel of Death scene, where we see Sofiko Chiaureli famously playing six roles in the movie, dressed in an interpretative fashion for an angel, pouring a red liquid on the poet; a scene that screams experimentalism from every angle.
I cannot help myself with admiring the subtle tributes to Armenian culture within the film, ranging from the occasional usage of melodic language to the mise-en-scene faithfully capturing the fashion of the time. Indeed, Parajanov skilfully transports the audience into the sun-scorched Armenian landscape. By all means,the bright colour used serves as an advert to visit this tiny, turbulent nation alone.
I would like to briefly mention my favourite scene in the movie, which also happens to be one of the most iconic ones. The scene involves the main actor, Sofiko Chiaureli, beautifully portraying both Sayat Nova and the princess who inspired his most well-known poems. Personally, I find it an interesting translation, and everything about that scene fits perfectly from the quaint mise-en-scene to a mysterious cherub swinging in the background.
Whether you are a cinephile or simply have an interest for experimentation, I would greatly recommend watching The Colour of Pomegranates. The visuals are stunning, and most importantly the film promotes a culture that usually is ignored and not discussed in mainstream media.