The Color of Pomegranates (Armenian: Sayat-Nova) is a 1968 Soviet film written and directed by Sergei Parajanov. This is one of the most challenging movies I’ve watched and as a cinema lover, this movie is a rare jewel very innovatively made by the maverick Soviet director Sergei Parajanov.
This film was controversial with five minutes of length were cut due to religious censorship beyond Armenia in the erstwhile Soviet Union. It made the Top 10 list in Cahiers du cinema in 1982 and Top 100 in Time Out.
The Color of Pomegranates is a biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova (King of Song) that attempts to reveal the poet’s life visually and poetically rather than literally. The film is presented in a form of static tableaux and depicts the poet’s coming of age, discovery of the female form, falling in love, entering a monastery and dying, all framed through both Sergei Parajanov’ s imagination and Sayat Nova’s poems. Actress Sofiko Chiaureli notably plays six roles in the film, both male and female.
There are specific images that are highly charged — blood-red juice spilling from a cut pomegranate into a cloth and forming a stain in the shape of the boundaries of the ancient Kingdom of Armenia; dyers lifting hanks of wool out of vats in the colors of the national flag, and so on
The director had claimed his inspiration was “the Armenian illuminated miniatures. I wanted to create that inner dynamic that comes from inside the picture, the forms and the dramaturgy of color.” Parajanov once made a speech in Minsk in which he asserted that the Armenian public very likely did not understand The Color of Pomegranates, but then said that people “are going to this picture as to a holiday”.
The Color of Pomegranates is known for its effective use of color, the film actually has a gestalt structure of color consciousness, I think… the background palette is arid and earth-toned, light brown and gray, the color of dry desert ground in oversaturated sunlight. This sets the dusty exterior tone for the whole film; indeed, even interior sequences seem to be infused with open air and penetrating sunlight. As we’ve read before, Technicolor required a lot of light to work right… but Parajanov’s lighting is intense, a reminder that we’re out in a bright, dry world, exposed to its elements.
Before and during my viewings of this film, I glanced around the web for some guidance in watching it. I found very little… most of the sources merely expressed their appreciation, and repeated their first and second impressions of the film: it was poetic, emotional, subversive and meditative. It has great use of color. I’m a guy who needs to find some conceptual anchor points, especially in an obviously complex, highly semantic film like Sayat Nova, and these sources generally weren’t helpful.
The simplest thing to note- the film has a bit of chronology to it, and if you’re clued in ahead of time, you won’t have to work so hard to figure this part out. It’s roughly divided into four periods: childhood, when the protagonist is played by a child; adolescence, when he is played by a young man; adulthood, when he is played by a tall man with a goatee; and late adulthood, when the same grown man appears, but with a streak of white. This apart the splashes of red appearing in the movie are very symbolic, especially in the rugs and the animal sacrifices, seem to represent the body, which I guess is spiritual representation. Then you have carpets, and lace, which is part of Armenian culture. The former figures prominently into the young life of our protagonist, and if we’re to read the film’s primary female figure as his muse, then the second is a motif associated with her. Wool and lace, love and desire — these themes are constantly at the forefront of the film’s imagery. Note the use of white garments and face paint, which has a pretty clear representational role.
A bunch of other themes that will be repeated, and that form the texture of Sayat Nova’s symbolic vocabulary: the books, a golden shell, cherubs, water spilling from the earth, the flock of sheep (which, at one point, act as a congregation witnessing the death of a spiritual leader), a pair of fools, the troubadour’s lyre, and skin turned red, either with dye or with blood.
The entire film has many moments and if you watch those three of the most beautiful moments in film: first, on a rooftop, surrounded by books drying in the sun; second, in the Land of the Dead, before a cadaver in a storm of ashes; third, toward the end, when the protagonist’s voice is preserved in a clay vessel. This movie indeed needs an active interpretation of The Color of Pomegranates.
This movie is all about colorful visualization, the pure experience of director’s influence in showing the mystic colors defining the life around, making the audience so curious is something that’s so remarkable…..a must watch
- Written & Directed by Sergei Parajanov
- Sayat-Nova (poems) Narrated by Armen Dzhigarkhanyan
- Casting: Sofiko Chiaureli; Melkon Aleksanyan; Vilen Galstyan & Giorgi Gegechkori
- Music by Tigran Mansuryan
- Cinematography by Suren Shakhbazyan
- Editing by Sergei Parajanov; M. Ponomarenko & Sergei Yutkevich
- Studio: Armen film
- Distributed by: Cosmos Film (France); Artkino Pictures (US) & IFEX (US)
- Release dates of 1968
- Running time of 78 mins (Armenia) & 73 mins (USSR release)
- Country : Soviet Union
- Language: Armenian