With wall-to-wall ethnic music and a highly-theatrical style, Parajanov’s last completed feature may be the most accessible of his most well-known folkloric works, best described as an experimental Fellini on steroids.
Dir. Sergei Parajanov & Dodo Abashidze
1988 | Soviet Union/Azerbaijan | Drama/Experimental | 74 mins | 1.37:1 | Azerbaijani, Georgian & Russian
Not rated – likely to be PG
Cast: Yuri Mgoyan, Sofiko Chiaureli, Ramaz Chkhikvadze
Plot: Wandering minstrel Ashik Kerib falls in love with a rich merchant’s daughter, but is spurned by her father and forced to roam the world for a thousand and one nights—but not before he’s got the daughter to promise not to marry till his return.
Source: Parajanov-Vartanov Institute
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Straightforward – Vignette-style
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Niche Arthouse
Some have regarded Ashik Kerib as a minor work of Sergei Parajanov, but I beg to differ. This is probably the most accessible and entertaining film out of his four most well-known features, which includes Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), The Color of Pomegranates (1969) and The Legend of Suram Fortress (1985). It is also his last completed feature, co-directed by Dodo Abashidze.
One of the distinct aspects of Ashik Kerib that sets it apart from what came before is the wall-to-wall use of ethnic music. I can’t quite recall any moment in the film when the music stopped for more than a few seconds. As such, the film feels invigorating, and coupled with its highly-theatrical visual style characterised by the flamboyant art direction, props and costumes, one can feel its energy bursting at the seams.
I think Ashik Kerib may be best described as an experimental Fellini on steroids, shot in the heart of Azerbaijan. The folkloric tale centers on a poor minstrel who realises that he can never be with his one true love—the daughter of a rich and obnoxious man. With lute in hand, the minstrel wanders the world and meets an array of characters who gives him the purpose to live.
Told through numerous but swiftly-navigated chapters, Ashik Kerib is a breeze to sit through, but of course, the film is not for everyone except the most ‘well-travelled’ of arthouse cinephiles. The film’s surprising final shot very much sums up Parajanov’s singular art—that it is not just theatre, music, dance, symbolism, experimentation or folklore, it is cinema itself, self-legitimised.