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    Sergei Parajanov Retrospective at goEast Festival 2008

    By Felix Lenz | August 21, 2008

    The 8th goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Films in Wiesbaden (9-15 April 2008) focused as usual on questions of current national sensibility and historical status. The complementary sidebar paid homage to the Armenian Sergei Parajanov: his masterful Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (USSR, 1964), Sayat Nova (USSR, 1969), The Legend of Suram Fortress (USSR, 1984), and Ashik-Kerib (USSR, 1988), plus two documentaries and an exhibition of Parajanov collages that offered further perspectives to his reality surmounting oeuvre.

    For Parajanov the sensual ability of a grown and fantasy-filled child always raises the question as to the meaning of life itself. Legends are therefore the preferred narrative genre. Accordingly, his images focus on the sensual relationship to landscape, beautiful objects, and variations on running water, all of which are compressed into symbols. At the center stands a world that promises pleasure and joys, for which the highest price is demanded: death. This crops up in deprivation, separation, and punishment, which puts the hero to the test. The Job story, who links Christians, Jews, and Muslims is thus the formative archetype. In the depths of doubt the hero is forced to comprehend his mortality and thereby find the fullness in himself that hovers over the slim possibilities of his real existence.

    Parajanov’s masterpiece Sayat Nova, the biography of the poet Sayadin, discovers to this end fantastic images. Ripe pomegranates are transformed into blood traces of its juice. As noble teeth of time, water and sun gnaw on books that hand down the gospel truth. A choir of grey haired children sing to the exiled Sayadin about the unredeemed promises of a fulfilled poet’s life. In despair Sayadin lets a God Father icon fall down upon a cupola. Yet as he excavates his own grave before dying, his childlike self hovers above, completely unbowed. Theologically interpreted archetypes offer Parajanov a firm framework for such bold pictorial experiments beyond the realm of narrative cinema, exemplars that he didn’t have to establish Instead, he begins promptly with a variation of symbolic figures. His dream grammar, with which he positions the conventional symbols and apparently merges detached traditions, protects him from religious orthodoxy. Thus quite singularly Parajanov brings the core of worldwide religious accomplishments to the surface, which there becomes inevitable when it’s a question of existence.

    This archetype, which Parajanov in 1969 artistically brought to a head in Sayat Nova, catches up with him in reality in 1973: his imprisonment (1973-78) threatened to rob Parajanov of his creativity and to senselessly squander his talent. Yet, in the middle of this insufficiency, Parajanov surprisingly fulfilled himself: in his collages and his proximity to initially alien prisoners. Beyond expectation, the international intervention by friendly artists permitted Parajanov’s return in 1980 to the film set. In Ashik-Kerib Parajanov has superbly incorporated this experience. Repudiated by the family of his bride, the singer Kerib, dependent on the charity of others, must suffer a series of indignities until his desire for deliverance becomes overpowering in a prayer. Now a good spirit on a white horse brings Kerib back to his supposedly lost life. Parajanov directs this like an ascension and thus doesn’t delude us with a meaningless Happy End.

    – Felix Lenz

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