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COLOR OF POMERGRANATES, THE (SAYAT NOVA) (director/writer: Sergei Paradjanov; screenwriter: based on the poems by Sayat Nova; cinematographer: Suren Shakhbazyan; editors: M. Ponomarenko/Sergei Paradjanov; music: Tigran Mansuryan; cast: Sofiko Chiaureli (Poet as a Youth/Poet’s Love/Poet’s Muse/Mime/Angel of Resurrection), Melkon Aleksanyan (Poet as a child, as M. Alekyan), Vilen Galstyan (Poet in the cloister), Giorgi Gegechkori (Poet as an old man), Spartak Bagashvili (Poet’s father), Medea Djaparidze (Poet’s mother), Hovhannes Minasyan (Prince), Onik Minasyan (Prince); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: G; Kino; 1968-Armenia/USSR-in Armenian with English subtitles)
“It’s best appreciated as an arcane work about a great tortured artist by a great tortured artist.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Banned by Soviet censors who feared idiosyncratic Russian filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov’s (“Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors”) spiritual biopic to the 18th century Armenian poet known as Sayat Nova was a nationalistic parable; it wasn’t allowed to leave Russia until 1983 as the censors accused the filmmaker of “secretism”, “decadent estheticism”, perpetuating an “excessive cult of the past” and “latent anti-sovietism.” Not only was the dissident’s film banned but future projects rejected. In 1973 he was sentenced to 5 years in a Soviet prison in the Ukraine for being a reactionary and to be reeducated for his homosexuality. In 1969, Soviet director Sergei Yutkevich re-edited (loping off twenty minutes) and made the censored Russian language version of the film called Tsvet Granata – which was still banned and shelved for a long time.

“Pomergranates” is a campy stylized tribute to the poet told through ornate images set out to form a tableaux that shows the poet’s life rather than using the conventional ways of storytelling, as the filmmaker renounced the basics of film narrative (no plot or dialogue). The poet’s writing such as “I am the man whose life and soul are torture” are used throughout to convey his inner thoughts as the film strings together a series of images of Armenian costume, embroidery and religious ritual interspersed with scenes and verses from the poet’s life.

It lushly opens with pomergranates that bleed their juice into a map of the old region of Armenia. It goes on to depict the great poet and troubadour Sayat Nova’s rise from carpet weaver to archbishop and martyr. Born in Georgia in 1712 to a peasant family and named Harutyun Sahakyan; he’s remembered by the Armenians as Sayat Nova or King of Songs, an homage to his status in the Armenian community as their greatest poet and musical composer. Hired to be the troubadour and then diplomat of Heracle II of Georgia, he fell out of favor when he sought to marry the king’s daughter. The king feared if that were to happen Sayat Nova would hold too much influence with the people and take over the kingdom, so he was banned and forced to become a wanderer and later a monk. Sayat Nova was killed in 1795 by the invading forces of the Persian Knight, Agha Mohammed Khan.

Though the film was beautiful, it was in large part inaccessible to those unfamiliar with the rich Armenian culture and history. It’s best appreciated as an arcane work about a great tortured artist by a great tortured artist; in other words, art for art’s sake.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”