December 10, 2012

filmsgraded.com:
The Color of Pomegranates (1968)
Grade: 52/100

Director: Sergei Parajanov
Stars: Sofiko Chiaureli, Melkon Alekyan, Vilen Galstyan

What it's about. This strange color movie was filmed in Armenia, which in 1968 was an occupied part of the Soviet Union. It presents the biography of poet Sayat-Nova (1712-1795) in the form of choreography and symbolism. He dyes clothing, becomes a musician, falls in love, joins a monastery, and dies.

What appears to be, from the bewildered Western point of view, a surreal satire of past Eastern European culture is instead meant to honor that culture as well as its celebrated poet.

It appears that the Russian censors didn't think much of the movie, since it was not distributed in the West in its present form until 1992. The movie was then promptly embraced by West Europe auteurs as a novel method of storytelling.

How others will see it. There is no question that The Color of Pomegranates, also known by its less marketable but more accurate title Sayat Nova, is something different. It is also inaccessible to Western viewers, who wouldn't know Sayat Nova from Nova Scotia.

We see a slow, stiff parade of beautiful but stone-faced actors in formal poses and colorful exotic costumes, interacting with symbolic objects and farm animals. It is obvious that the director has gone to a great deal of work and expense to present and coordinate it. What is far from obvious is the meaning. We sometimes laugh involuntarily at the absurdity of it all, even though we know the director has serious intentions.

At imdb.com, the user votes are quite low at 3K. The average grades are respectable at 7.1, but drop steadily with advancing age, from 7.7 under 30, to 7.3 under 45, to 6.6 over 45. Younger audiences sympathetic to the movie regard it as beautiful. Older audiences are more suspicious but respect the effort and nerve of such a non-commercial project.

How I felt about it. The Color of Pomegranates is one of the entries on the current Greatest Films poll by Sight & Sound magazine. Perusing this list, it is surprising how many movies on that list were made by the Soviet Union, that is Russia during its era of Communist control, 1918 through 1989. Man with a Movie Camera is #8, Battleship Potemkin is #11, Mirror is #19, and so forth.

You might conclude from this that the best way for a nation to make great films is to become Communist. Sure, the people would suffer, but doesn't that suffering produce great art? My suggestion is facetious. Of course the Soviet Union made a number of fine movies. But in some cases, it is their novelty that has placed them on the list instead of their quality.

That would be the case with Man with a Movie Camera and Mirror, and also with The Color of Pomegranates. You can make the Notre Dame marching band spell out letters on the field. You might even obtain a message from those letters. But it remains an awkward, stilted, unnatural, and unfathomable form of communication.

The sole reason that The Color of Pomegranates is even watchable is that it was made with the best of intentions. But it is unreproducible. From Western eyes, such an endeavor would be a commercial flop. Those that sit through it might regard it as comedy. They certainly wouldn't comprehend most of what they were seeing.