Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Color of Pomegranates (Parajonov. 1968)

"No one who has seen even a bit of this film could deny that it is unforgettable."

How much do you know about foreign culture? One interesting thing about world cinema is that it forces a milky white, middleclass American (like myself) to venture into the cultures of many different people. As much as I would like to say that I always enjoy that aspect of film, some films have the ability to turn even the most liberal film critic into a blatant xenophobe. For me, one of those films is The Color of Pomegranates. A Russian film directed by Sergei Parajanov, this has to be one of the least pleasant and most pretentious experiences of my life. I will say, in my introductory paragraph, that I would not recommend this snooze-fest to my worst enemy.

The Color of Pomegranates is a film that only arguably tells a story. I have read that it supposedly created a cinematic language through striking visuals and material symbolism. And though I am sure that this really happened, I cannot say that I noticed any of it. The concept that Parajanov based his film around was to tell the life story of the Armenian poet, Sayat Nova (King of Song), using non-literal and poetic imagery that more closely represents his art over his actual life. This means that the entire film is relatively without dialogue and features some excruciatingly pretentious still shots. In fact, the camera hardly moves throughout the entire production. It is just a jumble of long shots that lack any solid continuity.

One thing that I forced myself to remember is that I have seen this type of film before. I was automatically brought back to the surrealist movement of the late 20’s and 30’s with Louis Buñuel and Salvador Dali, but I think that this association would offend Sergei Parajanov. He was not making a surreal film; rather he was trying his best to tell a story through symbols and gestures. The fact that there is supposedly a story hidden in there keeps The Color of Pomegranates from being a surrealist picture.

So then what is this film really? There have been several filmmakers who try and tell an artist’s story through works rather than facts, and I have never been much of a fan. Though the comparison is thin, one film that succeeds with the endeavor is Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006), which narrates the life of the famous photographer using her influences as a visual. But still, Fur is a film that stays within the boundaries of convention. Parajanov is not interested in conventional anything.

I suppose what you are reading is an American boy’s yearning for a more Hollywood-like structure in his entertainment, and I will admit that it embarrasses me to write that. But The Color of Pomegranates is simply a painfully boring film. I may be uncultured, but I was also horribly uninterested in this dribble. We are treated to the visual of men slaughtering goats, one exposed female breast, a man riding a horse, people shooting guns and (of course) the leaking of pomegranates; which represents blood – the essence of life. Deep right?

This is the part where my fellow cinophiles tell me that I do not “understand” what Parajanov is trying to tell me with The Color of Pomegranates. I assure you that the obvious religious imagery, worked in coming-of-age angst and the allusion to VERY old poetry was not lost on me. I guess I just do not have an invested interest in the culture. I am certainly not interested enough for something like this movie.

At the end of the day, I want to be entertained by a film. The Color of Pomegranates can boast some beautiful scenery, but it lacks even the most basic values that interest a consumer. I have a hard time believing that there are people in the world who could legitimately enjoy something like this, but there has always been a market for the pretentious. The symbolism is ineffective and the story is lost in the fray of nonsense. I hated every minute of this film. It was an awful, boring and eye-opening experience. I gotta get out of the house more…..

The Color of Pomegranates: F

My Next Film...The Snake Pit (Litvak. 1948)

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