Armenian director Sergi Paradjanov’s The Colour of Pomegranates (1968), starring Sofiko Chiaureli, is not what you would call a traditionally entertaining film. A more appropriate set of terms would be, intriguing, intelligent and challenging. The film does not possess a conventional plot, although it loosely follows the life of 19th Century Armenian bard Sagat Nova.
The Colour of Pomegranates is a metaphysical, surrealist exploration of the poets mind and works. Interestingly the film was made as part of the 200th anniversary of Nova’s birth in 1969 and received Soviet backing.
Potential viewers should be warned that this is a film that you have to dedicate yourself to. I would however argue that if you engage with the film on its own terms you will be richly rewarded and accept that you may need to watch the film more than once to come to terms with it.
The Colour of Pomegranates is divided into eight chapters, or tableaux’s, that take the viewer on a journey through the three stages of Nova’s life. The film, rather unsurprisingly from the title, exploits the use of vibrant colour. One of the most beautiful scenes can be viewed early on when pomegranate juice bleeds through a rich cream cloth. Throughout the film Paradjanov compares and contrasts colour to create magnificent, rich scenes.
Distinctive to Paradjanov is his understanding of objects and their relationship to one another. Paradjanov belonged to a group of Eastern European directors who experimented with ‘Poetic Cinema,’ this form of cinema replaces words with striking images creating a language unique to film but equally (if not more so) informative. It makes a huge amount of sense that Paradjanov was attracted to the subject of Sagat Nova as it provided an opportunity to experiment with the relationship of literature to film.
Paradjanov also stressed that whilst The Colour of Pomegranates is an unconventional biography of Nova it was also largely autobiographical. In fact Sofiko Chiaureli who plays several roles throughout the film that cross genders including that of Nova, provides not only a dream like quality to the film but reflects Parajanov’s sexual identity; he was imprisoned for homosexual acts with a KGB agent in the early 60’s.
Paradjanov like to experiment with mime and theatre in his work and this is clearly evident from watching The Colour of Pomegranates. Theatrical devices are exploited again and again to weave together elements that reoccur throughout the eight chapters. In the end the result is a magnificent surrealist dream that throws you into a tapestry of ideas that emerge from both Paradjanov and Nova’s life and works.
The Colour of Pomegranates is a true masterpiece of cinema that takes the concept of the biographical film one leap further and is a work that stands the test of time being as fresh as the year it was released forty-two years ago.
The version of The Colour of Pomegranates available on this DVD is the Russian edit, featuring Russian language in the dividing chapters. The other version is known as the Armenian edit, neither can claim to be the director’s cut, the production story, which is too complex to go into in this review, is fascinating and can be explored in the DVD’s special features.