Ashik Kerib Review
Sergei Paradjanov’s final film Ashik Kerib, his second after his enforced 15 year break from filmmaking that included 4 years of imprisonment in a Soviet work camp, retains the same technique and approach of The Legend of the Surami Fortress’s tableaux vivant stagings to express the spirit more than the letter of the great Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov’s Oriental Fairytale set in the Caucasus.
Ashik Kerib recounts the story of an impoverished minstrel, Ashik-Kerib, who falls in love with Magul-Megeri, the daughter of a very wealthy man. Her father will not accept a pauper as a husband for his daughter and sends the minstrel and his family packing. Her father has chosen amore suitable match for his daughter, Kurshud-Bek, but the young woman promises she will wait one thousand days while Ashik-Kerib goes out into the world to earn his fortune. Despite an attempt from Kurshud-Bek to hinder his path and surreal encounters with the Nadir Pasha and a warlike sultan, the minstrel secures the patronage of Aziz and Vale, performing at weddings for the blind, the deaf and the dumb and even has the help of a saint to speed him back to Magul-Megeri, who has promised to kill herself rather than marry Kurshud-Bek at the end of the thousand days.
Filmed in Paradjanov’s picture-book style even more refined than in his previous film The Legend of the Surami Fortress, each scene in Ashik Kerib is elaborately staged, coloured and costumed, decorated and illustrated with inserts, designs, objects, drawings, mosaics and paintings, all referring to the richness of the culture, legend and history of the diverse ethnic peoples that inhabit the Caucasus region. Each short chapter consequently primarily consists of only one scene and perhaps only one panning camera movement, but rather then restrict the flow of the storyline, the narrative – such as it is – is remarkably fluid and rich with imagery and meaning.
Much of the reason for the success of this technique in Ashik Kerib and the fluidity that the film has, is down to the strength of the musical compositions which infuse and indeed enthuse the whole film. In them Paradjanov finds the essence of the people of the region much more than in mere storytelling, the folktale’s static picture-book designs rather coming to life through singing, dancing and performance, animating the characters who seem unable to resist the power of the musical life-force. Even more so than in The Legend of the Surami Fortress however, Paradjanov’s unique approach to filmmaking and the sheer wealth of obscure national symbolism and cultural references make this a film that is much easier to admire than it is to watch, let alone enjoy.
Ashik Kerib is released in the UK by Artificial Eye. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc, in PAL format, and is not region coded.
Again, as with The Legend of the Surami Fortress, the image quality isn’t particularly great, but sourced from the Russian Cinema Council, Ruscico, it’s probably about as good as you are likely to find the film, and it’s certainly more than acceptable. The image is rather soft, grain is noticeable, colours are a little on the dull side and there is some minor fluctuation in the levels causing faint discolouration. The image is also slightly jittery, perhaps on account of the telecine process. The qualities of the film’s look and colouration – so essential to its purpose – are however clear, with there being no serious marks, flaws or damage.
The audio track is presented in a Dolby Digital 1.0 and a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix. Disregarding, if you can, the ethics of remixing the audio track of a classic film, the surround track is much clearer vibrant than the rather dull-toned mono track. Lip-syncing issues will also be noted here, but this comes with the territory, the track clearly being dubbed in post-production. The fact that mouth movements don’t match what is spoken is particularly evident when there are lines deliberately spoken without the characters mouths closed, miming out actions.
English subtitles are provided in a clear white font and are optional. There are no noticeable issues here.
Using home videos, filmed interviews, speeches, family photographs and memorabilia, the feature on Sergei Paradjanov (24:17) pieces together a fine biography on the director using his own words. It covers his formative influences, his thoughts on filmmaking, his time in prison and looks at the wider aspects of his work in art, collage and ceramics. Directly relevant to the film here, Paradjanov is seen on set and talks about his intentions for what would be his final two films. M. Lermontov Archive (12:40) is a fascinating brief documentary on one of the most celebrated of Russian writers. It covers his life through portraits, through visits to his family home and to his station in the Caucasus, giving a full account of his death in a duel at the age of 27. As well biography and filmographies for Paradjanov and Lermontov, there are biographies and filmographies for the cast and crew with associated Trailers. The extras are rounded off with a Photo Album (1:24) and a nice piece called The Minstrel’s Song (Mugam) (4:58) which shows archive footage of the impressive Caucasus region set to music.
Ashik Kerib is certainly the work of a unique cinematic artist, but more than just being a dazzling display of technique, in it Sergei Paradjanov also addresses a deep personal relationship with his nation and its culture, but in a manner that perhaps a little too obscure and personal for an outsider to make any meaningful connection with it. Make of it what you will. Artificial Eye make the best of the limitations imposed on them by the source materials, giving the viewer at least valuable biographical and historical background material in the fine extra features.