The Colour Of Pomegranates

The Colour Of Pomegranates


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

The Colour of Pomegranates is a unique cinematic exploration of the 18th century Armenian poet Sayat Nova’s life and work. If that sounds like a tough watch, that’s because it is. This ‘film’ cannot be approached through any conventional understanding of the word. This isn’t cinema as we know it. This, quite frankly, is impenetrable nonsense. It may be staggeringly beautiful and inventive, but it’s posturing nonsense all the same.

Without any discernible characters, dialogue or plot, the film aims to provide us with a cinematic sense of Nova’s poetry and life experiences. There is a broadly chronological arc to the film, Nova’s life from childhood to death, but you’d only know that from the chapter titles telling us so. In addition to these titles, we are occasionally treated to Nova’s words on screen, which surely only serves to undermine the film’s existence.

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It is beautiful, of that there can be no doubt. The camera never seems to move, but the images that it captures are striking in their oddness, colour and underlying melancholy. Despite being difficult to follow, it is possible to gather together crumbs of information on Nova: his early love of literature, the vibrancy and sensuality of the world he grew up in, the prominence of religious fervour, agricultural dependence and his fleeting love. There’s also a certain excitement in Paradjanov’s radical reconstituting of cinematic language.

This is most evident in the use of jump-cuts. One image is abruptly replaced by another very similar image, yet always slightly different. This kind of graphic matching, between two different shots and images similarly framed and coloured, is striking and rather inventive for the time. These images provide a sort of illusory stream-of-consciousness that works best in adapting the underlying feeling of Nova’s poetry into cinema.

However, Paradjanov’s radicalism does have many drawbacks. Irritatingly the director insists that the actors morosely stare into the camera in shot after shot after shot. Worst of all, though, there is nothing to maintain interest. This kind of stream-of-consciousness cinema remains interesting for five, maybe 10, minutes. After that we need a character, a plot, some dialogue, some sense of an interesting story unfolding. None of which are forthcoming, and without any characters to care about, without any sense of tension or intrigue, the film quickly becomes a turgid experience.

The imagery, painterly composition and clearly meticulous visual design of the film deserve appreciation and admiration. However, The Colour Of Pomegranates serves no purpose as a coherent film. Some will praise it for breaking the boundaries of conventional cinema, and offering a completely unquantifiable perspective on the poet and his life and it has probably influenced many with its beauty and metaphorical imagery - see Antonioni’s similarly gorgeous and dull Red Desert for evidence. However, most will be driven to despair by the rejection of any sort of narrative coherence.

It is, ultimately, terribly boring. Terribly, terribly, terribly boring. There are similarly revered filmmakers in world cinema (ie Andrei Tarkovsky, Yasujirô Ozu, Terrence Malick, Jean Vigo) who can deliver equally sumptuous visual imagery with at least some sort of semblance of story, character and plot. These are, and always will be, the essential foundations upon which cinema rests.

Reviewed on: 28 Aug 2011
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Exploration of the life of Sayat Nova.
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Director: Sergei Parajanov

Writer: Sayat Nova, Sergei Parajanov

Starring: Sofiko Chiaureli, Melkon Alekyan, Vilen Galstyan, Giorgi Gegechkori, Spartak Bagashvili, Medea Djaparidze, Hovhannes Minasyan, Onik Minasyan, Yuri Amiryan, I. Babayan, Medea Bibileishvili, T. Dvali, Aleksandr Dzhanshiyev, Guranda Gabunia, Zh. Gharibyan

Year: 1968

Runtime: 79 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Armenia

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