Color of Pomegranates, The (1969)

As fascinating as it is arcane, this visually and aurally arresting work from Armenia defeats categorization, but is indescribably hypnotic. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #1,174

Dir. Sergei Parajanov
1969 | Soviet Union | Experimental / Music | 78 mins | 1.37:1 | Armenian & Georgian
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity

Cast: Sofiko Chiaureli, Melkon Alekyan, Vilen Galstyan
Plot: A portrait of revered 18th-century Armenian poet and musician Sayat-Nova.
Awards: –

Source: Parajanov-Vartanov Institute

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Esoteric – Art
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex – Vignettes
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse

Viewed: National Museum of Singapore – Singapore Heritage Festival
First Published: 24 May 2015
Spoilers: No

I caught this as part of the Singapore Heritage Festival in a newly restored 2014 version of Sergei Parajanov’s outstanding piece of world cinema.  Apparently, it was the “Parajanov’s cut”, or so I was told in the introductory titles that played before the film began. 

Part of the vibrant Soviet cinema back when Armenia was under Soviet rule, The Colour of Pomegranates is now considered an Armenian film, and arguably the finest work to come out of the land.  From the opening frame to the last, you will be treated to some of the most fascinating visuals to be put on film. 

But Parajanov’s piece is arcane, not accessible to mainstream audiences – even film enthusiasts who would readily defend the art of world cinema may find it trying.  It is a slow, meandering film about the poet Sayat Nova, not about his works, nor his life, but Parajanov’s impressions of what he thinks could have been the poet’s expressions of his inner self.

The film’s arcane qualities remain mystifying for old and new audiences alike, all of whom, including myself, would find themselves attempt to grasp the meaning behind the film, when in all honesty it’s a futile undertaking. 

“In this healthy and beautiful life my share has been nothing but suffering. Why has it been given to me?”

I think it might be more fruitful to try to feel the exotic, sometimes surreal essence of Parajanov’s work.  I don’t mean that one should try to force an emotional connection with the film – you simply can’t. 

Rather, to feel in this case is to open your eyes and ears.  To see and to hear, for if nothing else, at least you create a window for yourself to appreciate the artistry of this loosely structured, experimental feature. 

I come from the school of thought believing that music in film is wholly integral, rather than supplementary, to the screen experience.  In The Colour of Pomegranates, an assortment of ethnic bells, gongs, drums, plucked strings, voices etc. give a strong flavour to the visuals – if a scene may lose you, the sounds bring you back in.

If the English translation of the revised title “The Colour of Pomegranates” wasn’t Parajanov’s intention (the film was supposed to be named after the poet), it has somehow shaped up to be a more than fitting title over the decades, one that draws abstract parallels between fruit and cinema – after all, ain’t the purest of cinemas about the fruits of our own soul-(searching)?  

The Colour of Pomegranates defeats categorization, but it is also proud of its own unique taste.

Grade: A-



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