The Colour of Pomegranates Review
There are two versions of The Colour of Pomegranates to choose from on disc one of the Second Sight limited edition box set. The Armenian version (“Parajanov’s cut) was restored - explained in the introductory intertitles - from the original camera negative provided by Gosfilmofond in Russia, in addition to the 35mm dupe negative held by the National Cinema Centre of Armenia. The Russian version (“Yutkevich’s cut) is presented “for posterity” using the original camera negative. For the purposes of this review, the Armenian version will be the one referred to, it is after all Sergei Parajanov’s vision which deserves to be seen uncut.
Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova, born Harutyun Sayatyan, (1712-1795) is the subject of The Colour of Pomegranates and although not a typical biopic, it does approach Sayatyan’s life in linear order from his birth into a wool-dyeing family, his education in literature by the Armenian Church, to his marriage, subsequent widowerhood and his monastic life in Haghpat before his death through a series of non-narrative visually poetic frames. With the most significant aspects of the poet’s life depicted through detailed tableaux, combining colour, costume and music within an extraordinary mise-en-scéne. Parajanov used a static camera so every scene resembles a painting with a theatricality to the performances - which renders the 4K scan and colour grading beautifully naturalistic despite the overt artifice within each frame. One could argue against the film’s accessibility but it is easy to follow, rich in metaphor, symbolism and allegory that its historical and biographical basis within Armenian culture means it is deeply resonant on a universal level.
“In this healthy and beautiful life only I have been made to suffer. Why is that so?”
Only when looking into Sergei Parajanov’s life does it also becomes apparent - and the disc extras help hugely in this - that TCOP isn’t just about Sayat Nova. The Georgian -born Armenian Parajanov was considered a controversial director of the Soviet era and yet is now regarded as one of the greatest masters of cinema. After seeing Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962), the inspired filmmaker changed his artistic method and, in 1964, he made Shadow of Forgotten Ancestors in this new style to international acclaim, while at home its aesthetic and ideology was attacked and promptly banned. Even when Parajanov moved back to Armenia from Russia, it made little difference. Russian censors deemed ...Pomegranates inappropriate, claiming it did not reflect Sayat Nova’s (who had been dead some 174 years at that point) life, renamed it and instigated a trial and imprisonment. Parajanov was jailed for five years with a whole host of vague charges levelled at him including suspected homosexuality, illegal antiques trading, incitement of suicide... he was forbidden from making films for the next 15 years.
The Colour of Pomegranates is a unique and fascinating achievement and it’s easy to see its inspiration in the likes of Alejandro Jodorowsky and Tarsem Singh’s work. Some may call it obtuse but even with its limited use of language, it is glorious in content, colour and cinematography - one of those films you should see before you die. This luxury box set is, aptly, as rich in content as the film itself. Second Sight have packed the limited edition with extras which enhances (and informs) the experience.
Parajanov’s Cut: Armenian version of the film (80 mins) - with an annotated commentary by James Steffen, author of The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov, and advisor of the new restoration.
Yutkevich’s Cut: Russian version of the film (70 mins) - with an annotated commentary by Levon Abrahamyan.
Kyiv Frescoes (14:36) - new 2K restoration, accompanied by an annotated commentary by Daniel Bird. During 1965, Parajanov worked on these screen tests, when the film was cancelled and production halted indefinitely the filmmaker took his screen tests and made them into a short film which is a celebration of the great patriotic war.
Pomegranates Rediscovered (8:38) - a short film describing the restoration process, the presentation of negatives, colour grading and the 4K scan. Presented by Cecilia Cenciarelli of Cineteca Di Bologna, this is really interesting, particularly with the split screen comparison showing the amount of work it took to reproduce this gorgeous film.
Free Parajanov! (11:39) - An audio interview with Tony Rayns which plays over stills from the film. In it the critic discusses how he discovered Parajanov and the first screening he attended of The Colour of Pomegranates.
The World is a Window: The Making of The Colour of Pomegranates (75:58) - This in depth documentary is enlightening, if a little dry in places as four contributors; scholars James Steffen and Karla Oeler, photographer Yuri Mechitov and cultural anthropologist Levon Abrahamyan discuss the making of the film amid the political climate.
Memories of Sayat Nova (31:38) - Short subtitled film by Levon Grigoryan from 2006. The most interesting aspect is that the film states that it is “impossible to restore Sayat Nova” and contains grainy footage from the then finished film (which would then end up as a purple-hued negative as seen in a previous extra). That version was shorter, the full cut never destined to be restored.
Parajanov: A Requiem (59:06) - A short documentary from 1994 featuring the filmmaker - an extremely happy delight of a man - who recounts the casting process of the film, his thoughts on being a director (they can never be trained, “it is a gift from the womb”). He discusses his time in prison and presents footage from his earlier films, shows the exhibits which would become part of the Parajanov Museum. The last third holds footage from the Venice Film Festival (1988) and Istanbul Film Festival (1989) where the filmmaker introduces his film. At the latter, he rather poignantly declares he “would like to die after this.” He passed the following year.
120-page limited edition book - this features an introduction by Martin Scorsese, archive material, new writing, costume designs, storyboards and original literary script (unavailable for review).