Thursday, 16 January 2020

The Color of Pomegranates (Sayat Nova) (1969)

The Color of Pomegranates
Readers of this blog may remember that I reviewed the movie “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” a few years ago. While that was not a bad movie, it did use stylized images and surrealism in a way that often made me loose track of the story. Now the director Sergei Paradjanov is back with “The Color of Pomegranates” where he goes even further into the direction nurtured with “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors”. Gone is any semblance of narrative or even progressive movements. Instead “The Color of Pomegranates” consists solely of a series of fairly static tableaux. There is movement in the tableaux, but it could be a woman waving her arm, a man digging or music instruments spinning on their own axis. Faces will typically look straight at the camera with no movement at all, not even blinking.

While this sounds obscure and avantgarde, I actually find that I like it better that an obscure narrative. It is a relief that there is none. I can simply sit back and enjoy the pictures instead of trying to work out who is who and why on earth they are doing what they are doing.

This is supposed to be about an Armenian poet called Sayat Nova who was active in the 18th century. This fellow is apparently very famous in the Caucasus area and even thought of as a unifying character in a divided region. Here I am at a disadvantage because I never heard of this guy before and indeed my knowledge of the Caucasus countries is very limited. I have been wanting to visit there for a long time, but not yet done so. Hence, since these tableaux are supposed to tell the life story of the poet, I merely see pictures of a boy, then a man in various scenes in Armenia.

Yet that is almost enough. The pictures are gorgeous even if I do not understand them. The scenery, the monasteries, the cloths, it is all very exotic and dream-like. This can only make me even more curious about this region of the world.

Still, you have to imagine 70 minutes of these tableaux. At some point it simply gets boring. A break helps and when I start watching again, I can get right in (no narrative to keep track of) and enjoy the images.

This is of course an art movie and the intention is of course not only to show us some pretty images. There are messages and sentiments which it is trying to convey in relation to this poet, but these are completely wasted on me. Unfamiliar as I am with the topic, I do not even know what to look for. In another movie this is likely to have made me upset or dismissive (e.g.  Mediteranee), but there was a fascinating quality to the imagery on display which made me more receptive to “The Color of Pomegranates” and I saw it less as an ordeal than I would have expected. I actually found the Making of.. feature on the DVD with a bunch of talking heads analyzing the movie duller than the movie itself.

This is not for everybody, but the sheer beauty of the imagery makes it worth a watch.

Mirror, father, mirror…



  1. My comment under Le Boucher was meant to go here!

  2. I hated this movie.

    That said, it also generated one of the single greatest comments on my blog in 10 years of writing.

    I stand by my belief that Sayat Nova is a goof that someone once decided to call influential and important and, rather than risk being called an uncultured swine, everyone else went along with it. This emperor's new clothes aren't there.

    1. Yeah, I did read that and for the record I do not agree with the comment. Art is in the eye of the beholder so everybody has a right to like this movie as well as dislike it. It is just annoying that obscurity itself is often what qualifies something as great art and I do agree that there is a lemming effect. I once watched Kiarostami's Taste of Cherry in the cinema with some friends. This is a fairly obscure movie but the ending is absolutely bizarre, especially as watched in a cinema. While my friends and I were having a laughing attack the rest of the audience were sitting, looking at each other insecurely, but settling for a serious demeanor. Obviously, this should be serious art so we better look the part. Well, except for us heretics...