Sergei Parajanov, “The Color of Pomegranates”, 1969, Computer Graphics, Film Gifs
The 1969 Soviet art film “The Color of Pomegranates”, written and directed by Sergei Parajanov, is a visual, poetic treatment of the life of the eighteenth-century Armenian musician and poet Sayat-Nova. The film is presented in a series of chapters depicting the poet’s life in active tableaux, presented with little dialogue. Each chapter, framed through Sayat-Nova’s poems, is indicated by a title card: Childhood, Youth, Prince’s Court, The Monastery, The Dream, Old Age, The Angel of Death, and Death. Narration on the film was done by Armenian-born renowned actor Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, known for his role in the 1979 “The Meeting Place Can Not Be Changed”.
Four actors took the role of Sayat-Nova at different stages in his life, with Soviet Georgian actress Sofiko Chiaureli, notably playing six roles in the film, both female and male. The film was shot at numerous historical sites in northern Armenia, many being medieval churches in the Lori Provence, including the Sarahin Monastery and the St. John church at Ardvi. Filming was also done at the Old City of Baku, Azerbaijani, and in the countryside near the David Gareja Monastary in Eastern Georgia.
Objections were made by the Communist Party and the Soviet censors to Parajanov’s poetic, stylized treatment of the poet’s life, citing that it failed to educate the public. As a result, the original title “Sayat-Nova” was changed to “The Color of Pomegranates” and any references to Sayat-Nova’s name was removed from the credits. The Soviet officials also objected to the amount of religious imagery in the film and removed a substantial portion of it. Although the State Committee for Cinematography initially refused to allow the film to be shown outside Armenia, it did allow the film, now with a seventy-seven minute running time, to premiere inside Armenia in October of 1969.
Filmmaker Sergei Yutkevich, the 1962 People’s Artist of the USSR and a script-reader on the State Committee, recut the film by a few minutes to appease the authorities and created Russian-language chapter titles for easier understanding by the public at large. He also changed the order of some of the sequences in the film. This seventy-three minute version ultimately received only limited distribution in the rest of the Soviet Union.
The digital restoration of “The Color of Pomegranates” was completed in 2014 by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation with the help of Cineteca di Bologna. It was re-edited as close as possible to the Sergei Parajanov’s original version, with its premier held at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. Parajanov’s film premiered in the US at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in September of 2014 and the 52nd New York Film Festival in October of 2014.