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Kino on Video presents
The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

"Living or dead/My song will awaken the crowd/Though I expire/No more will be lost to the world."
- Sayat Nova

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: February 24, 2001

Stars: Sofiko Tchiaureli, M. Alekian, V. Galastian
Other Stars: O. Minasian
Director: Sergei Paradjanov

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (depictions of animal sacrifice, some nudity)
Run Time: 02h:40m:00s
Release Date: April 03, 2001
UPC: 738329020125
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A-B-C- A+

DVD Review

I'm sure that just about everyone has some memorable movie experience. Not an experience that happened AT a theater, but the experience of the movie itself that burned into your memory, never to be forgotten. For me, one of those experiences was when I saw a theatrical showing of director Sergei Paradjanov's breakthrough 1965 feature Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The film was an amazing experience; a mystical story of star-crossed lovers living in the rural Ukraine, filled with amazing visuals and an astounding soundtrack of drums, horns, and chanting vocals. I later found out that Paradjanov (a native Armenian), rather than being celebrated as an amazing filmmaker, was actually harassed by the Russian government for almost his entire life and, eventually, imprisoned on ridiculous charges. His visionary work was seen as a threat to the stark realism that the Soviet regime preferred in all art and entertainment. I suppose, in a certain, dark way, it's a compliment to Sergei that his films should be considered so radically threatening, that they'd use their power to imprison him and censor his work.

Regardless, his 1969 piece, The Color Of Pomegranates is, ironically, one of the most reality-threatening collections of imagery ever put to film. Conceived as a stylized tribute to the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova, the film stands out as a masterwork in the art of movie-making. Mainly told in metaphor and allegory, Pomegranates attempts to mimic the two-dimensional, highly colored, slightly stiff aesthetic behind traditional mosaics and tapestries of the region. Perhaps the best way to describe the work is that it would be like going to an art gallery and all of the pictures on the walls were moving inside their own frames, but the movement was restricted to just those frames. Sayat Nova's life—his childhood, his marriage, and his time as a Catholic monk—is examined in a way that only Paradjanov can envision.

The film has nothing in it that can really be defined as conventional. There is almost no dialogue, and certainly no dialogue that actually expresses direct conversation between characters. Rather, important moments in the life of the poet Sayat Nova are "painted" on-screen with scenes depicting these moments. The composition and artistry are simply awe-inspiring. Though this presentation takes some getting used to, it is ultimately rewarding. Wild costumes, amazing color schemes, and surreal backdrops and sets are used to full effect. Most of the locations were real locations; part of a small Armenian community where Paradjanov filmed the entire piece. The audio is a brilliant and startling sound collage of various sources. Blaring horns and drums (in ethnic arrangements of the regions) are mixed with Catholic prayers (sometimes in more than one language), religious choral work, children laughing, and other ambient soundscapes.

I suppose the biggest stumbling block, critically, for Pomegranates is the fact that its subject, poet Sayat Nova, isn't exactly well known. Even in Armenia, people had a hard time grasping the concept behind this film. So, it is almost a requirement of the viewer to simply let go of the wish to fully understand the details of the film in terms of how they fit in with the life of Sayat Nova. Instead, accept the abstract nature of the imagery at face value. Of course, the most common criticism lobbed at the movie is the term 'boring.' I will concede that it takes a certain amount of patience to get through the film. Though I enjoyed what Paradjanov has done with the realm of film, it is also very 'selfish', for lack of a better term. Paradjanov has put the contents of his mind on the screen, but in the process, he hasn't given us the key to understanding it fully. We are kept at an uncomfortable distance from the heart of the work, but maybe that's where Sergei feels most at home.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: I'm not sure of the technical details of the format in which Color of Pomegranates was shot, but it is slightly thinner than the average 1:33:1 film. About an inch or so of "black bar" can be seen on the left and right side of the screen. For film of this age and, from what I understand, kept under such poor conditions, it's in pretty good condition. Most importantly, the color is very much intact with very little fading. However, the film is damaged and cannot really be compared to the average DVD. A lot of work had to be done just to get Pomegranates to look this good, and so the amounts of damage still present on the source print are forgivable. Amazingly, the transfer itself is pristine. At no time do any digital flaws appear as a result of the film's natural problems. Not even the dirtiest or most visually complex scenes exhibit any kind of shimmer or artifacting. The film looks simply as pure as possible, and as beautiful as possible. It should be noted that the subtitles are hard intertitles; burned into the film itself. To be honest, they're a little big and take up too much of the frame, but they're also sparsely used, so it's not that big a deal.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoArmenian/Georgianyes


Audio Transfer Review: Sadly, the mono audio hasn't fared as well as the restored visuals. While most of the film sounds fine, it is plagued by damage and distortion. The last half of the film is almost entirely affected by warble and periodic audio cut-outs. I'm sure this could not have been avoided and as much repair as could be done, was done. Overall, though, the sound works for the most part. Oddly enough, due to the experimental nature of the film, the audio problems almost add to it rather than take away.

Audio Transfer Grade: C-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues
Subtitles/Captions in English
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Additional short feature: Hagop Hovnatanian
Extras Review: The core extra feature (or, more accurately, second feature) to the disc is the inclusion of the documentary Paradjanov: A Requiem. The film, which was completed shortly after Paradjanov's death in 1990, is basically an extensive, hour-long interview with the director while he was in Germany attending 1989 film festivals, where his newest work, Ashik Kerib, was premiering. Along with the interview footage are short clips from most of his films, including scenes from his early works like Adriesh and Ukrainian Rhapsody, which are not yet available in the West. Clips from incomplete works (productions halted by the Soviet government) are also presented. Paradjanov discusses many things: his artistic style, his influences, his hopes for the future, and memories of his 4 years spent in prison. One of the especially touching aspects of the documentary is the profound effect that the 1989 death of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky had on Paradjanov; he later dedicated the premiere of Ashik Kerib to him. Tarkovsky's surreal, science-fiction epic Stalker was intended, at least partially, as a tribute to Paradjanov's time spent in prison.
Additionally featured is a 10-minute short film, Hagop Hovnatanian, from 1965. The piece is basically a series of wonderfully composed, still images. Unfortunately, the subtitles do not translate the Cyrillic title cards.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

The Color of Pomegranates is an important piece of world cinema. This DVD release brings new attention and focus to the work of Sergei Paradjanov. As much as any of the great Russian filmmakers, Paradjanov deserves his place in cinema history and, as he states, those filmmakers who collaborated with the Communist machine and gave up their integrity just to be able to live on in safety, should be condemned. Kino has done a wonderful job here and I only hope that Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors soon makes it to the DVD medium.

 


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