The Color of Pomegranates (1969)

Directed by Sergei Parajanov; Written by Sergei Parajanov

A poet gets high on another poet’s poetry

Biopics of artists can suffer under conventional treatment. A rich inner life, what makes these people extraordinary, cannot be disassembled and arranged into a laundry list of formative experiences as if they were x’s and y’s in a formula that in the end spits out “genius”. Thankfully, Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates, his film on the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova, is anything but conventional biopic treatment.  

Parajanov eschews the literal, and opts instead for an emotional evocation of Sayat Nova’s life. With chapter-indexes and sparse inclusions of Sayat Nova’s own poetry as the flickering guiding lights of the film’s narrative, Parajanov instead just asks we keep our eyes and hearts open to what he shows us.

Gone are establishing shots, exposition dialogue, conflict escalation and conclusions; in their place is unadulterated picture poetry: a young boy scrambling around sunken dome-shaped roofs, burly men throwing blood-red wool into basins, or that same young boy lying flat on a church’s roof, open books laid open and placed around him like bricks, their pages fluttering like white wings of pearl-colored pigeons. 

The film can feel impenetrable, but its rewards are not left-brain oriented. The film is as opaque as it is keen, as unfathomable as it striking. No man can be reduced to a single situation, so Parajanov transforms his impressions of Sayat Nova’s life into a series of tableaux, composing vivid images of elements both relatable and otherworldly, taking everyday objects and re-assigning purpose. Like taking a person’s DNA and putting it under something akin to a kaleidoscope-lensed microscope.  

A visual and sonic feast, Parajanov’s image composition is so lush and so dense with impressions, his every frame a rich tapestry to read into. No matter what you make of it, or don’t make of it, it is simply a beautiful film full of indelible scenes. You could pause the film at any given time, and have that image framed.  

Inner life. What are the cultural textures that are woven together to create a person, what does a formative experience sound and look like? It has an abstract, nearly impossible answer and The Color of Pomegranates fully leans into that. 

You’d be remiss to try and decode it. It’d be like standing on a riverbank, staring through the water in an attempt to decipher patterns in the rocks in the riverbed. It’d be silly, when you have an entire river in all its unending splendour to admire instead.

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