Tag Archives: sergei paradjanov

Best DVD/Blu-ray Releases of 2011

The Colour of Pomegranates

Electric Sheep writers review the best DVD and Blu-ray releases in 2011.

The Colour of Pomegranates (Sergei Paradjanov, 1968, Second Sight)

Inspired by Armenian miniatures and icons, its tableaux slowly evoke - rather than tell - the life of the 18th-century poet and troubadour Sayat Nova. Laden with the poet’s suffering and biblical and folkloric symbolism, there is an epic, earnest solemnity to The Colour of Pomegranates; and while such gravity and careful construction could lead to austerity and artificiality, there is also a consuming warmth and sensuality. The extraordinarily striking actress Sofiko Chiaureli plays the part of both poet and muse, exploring male and female sexuality (Paradjanov was himself bisexual and first imprisoned for a homosexual act with a KGB officer) and the film is joyously abundant with melodic folk music and heightened sounds: the crinkling of books’ pages; the squelch of pomegranate seeds; the urgent chirping of bird song. The Colour of Pomegranates is an emotionally affecting film and is especially poignant given Paradjanov’s own suffering in prison and the loss of his first wife. Lost loves and issues of ethnicity, subjects raw to his heart, are treated with immense compassion. And yet, The Colour of Pomegranates is also a film that joyously arouses all the senses: a truly sensory experience without precedent or successor. Eleanor McKeown

La Piscine (Jacques Deray, 1969, Park Circus)

The pristine swimming pool of a glamorous couple’s private villa in the French Riviera is the focus of Jacques Deray’s 1969 tale of lust, co-dependency and revenge. Of ample size and stylish design, it’s where lovers Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) and Marianne (Romy Schneider) fool around during a long hot summer, far from the madding crowd of St Tropez. It’s also where Jean-Paul challenges Marianne’s ex-lover Harry (Maurice Ronet) to a symbolic swimming race, and where the film reaches its shocking and deadly climax. Deray does a deft job in capturing the hedonism and abandon of the period, where good looks and chic clothes conceal dark feelings that lurk beneath the surface, helped by a toe-tapping soundtrack by Michel Legrand. Legrand is a name often associated with the French New Wave, as is Maurice Ronet, who plays smooth-talking music producer Harry, but La piscine‘s connection with the movement ends there. Instead, with its smoulderingly attractive cast and focus on relationships, it owes more to American film noir and psychological thrillers of the previous two decades. Lisa Williams

Who Can Kill a Child? (Narciso Ibañez Serrador, 1976, Eureka)

Narciso Ibañez Serrador’s Who Can Kill a Child? is arguably the best Spanish horror film ever made. It’s also a classic of 70s horror, but you’re unlikely to find it on many ‘best of’ lists, from either fans or critics. This is mainly due to its half-hearted distribution until Eureka finally released it on DVD in the UK this year. Like Village of the Damned (1960) and Children of the Corn (1984), Who Can Kill a Child? pits adults against children, this time working from the template established by George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead (1968). Unlike those films, Who Can Kill a Child? doesn’t dilute the horrific premise by making his children aliens or religious maniacs controlled or directed by a supernatural entity. Following Hitchcock in The Birds (1963) and Romero, Serrador provides no real information that might help to understand or explain the events taking place. Once the misjudged moralising prologue is over, Who Can Kill a Child? is a masterpiece of atmosphere and a deeply unsettling, original experience, and one that deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. Jim Harper

Akira (Katsuhiro Ôtomo, 1988, Manga Entertainment)

Based on Katsuhiro Ôtomo’s serialised comic, in which telekinesis and telepathy are imagined as evolutionary reactions to a dehumanised machine-driven world, Akira proved to be a ground-breaking film on its release in 1988, presenting concepts and imagery rarely seen on the big screen in animation. While some aspects have dated and the rushed ending - a soupí§on of Kubrickian post-human light show plus shafts of divine light in a ruined landscape - strives too hard to be sublime, this is a classic animated Japanese film that is well worth adding to any Blu-ray collection, in a HD transfer that finally does justice to the film’s colour palette and intricate line art. Alex Fitch


Alice (Jan Švankmajer, 1988, BFI Video)

Alice, technically a Swiss-British-German co-production although, in all creative respects, entirely Czech, was filmed in Prague with Švankmajer’s regular team. Significantly, the Czech title translates as ‘Something from Alice’, indicating that it should in no way be considered a straightforward adaptation of Carroll. While Alice is played by a real little girl, the world of her imagination or dream world is represented by puppets and animated figures. The characters have become much more explicitly threatening than in Carroll’s original. Švankmajer’s most nightmarish creations are his ‘animals’, who pursue Alice at the White Rabbit’s behest after she has escaped from his house. These skeletal monsters include a coach pulled by chickens with skull heads, a fish-like skeleton with legs, a skull dragging a bone body, and a skull head that snaps out of a jam pot. This array of visions is far from the antiseptic world of Disney or the reassuring middle-class images of Sir John Tenniel. Peter Hames

The Kingdom (Lars von Trier, 1994 + 1997, Second Sight)

Set in Denmark’s largest hospital, Lars von Trier’s 90s TV series The Kingdom is perhaps best described as the mutated offspring of a hospital-based reality TV show and David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, but even that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. The Kingdom‘s horror might seem tame to viewers of Saw and Hostel, but von Trier manages to establish - and increase - a surprising level of tension and atmosphere, something that suits the work much better than explicit violence and gore. The Kingdom is absolutely essential viewing for lovers of horror or fantasy, as well as anyone with a passion for the weird. Originally broadcast in two seasons of four episodes each, the first season was edited into a single movie for a British VHS release in 1998, but this is the first time that both seasons have been available in this country. Jim Harper

Deep End (Jerzy Skolimowski, 1970, BFI Video)

Deep End is a film driven by and dripping with discomfort, an effect that’s heightened by the 40-year interval between its original release and recent revamp by BFI’s Flipside imprint. The story of Mike, a London teenager working his first job as a public bath attendant, and his sexual obsession with his co-worker Susan, it is morally ambiguous in tone, pitched somewhere between psychosexual thriller and a dark coming-of-age comedy. In that sense it’s quite typical of the era in which it was made, but there is something more self-aware about Deep End. The uncomfortable mood is not just the by-product of its time and our latter-day perspective on it, but also, perhaps, of director Jerzy Skolimovski’s own slightly distanced perspective on his subject. Frances Morgan

Shôhei Imamura releases (Eureka’s Masters of Cinema)

Eureka continue to make the work of the great Japanese director Shôhei Imamura available to UK audiences. Following the release of Vengeance is Mine (1979) and Profound Desires of the Gods (1968) in previous years, 2011 brought a bounty crop: Pigs and Battleships (1961), A Man Vanishes (1967) and The Ballad of Narayama (1983).

Pigs and Battleships
A vivid indictment of a nation struggling with a serious identity crisis, Pigs and Battleships is a biting social satire by a truly brilliant filmmaker. John Berra

A Man Vanishes
Over 40 years ago, Shôhei Imamura created the quintessential mockumentary, A Man Vanishes, a film essay that reveals with cunning wit concerns of veracity and corruption and anticipates the traps reality will lay for filmmakers. John Bleasdale

The Ballad of Narayama
The cruelty of survival is the focus of Shôhei Imamura’s stunning film. His achievement here is in presenting a radically different society with values that clash directly with what we today consider universal and inalienable rights. John Bleasdale

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

Format: DVD

Release date: 10 May 2010

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Sergei Paradjanov

Writers: Sergei Paradjanov, Ivan Chendej, Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky

Original title: Tini zabutykh predkiv

Cast: Ivan Mikolajchuk, Larisa Kadochnikova, Tatyana Bestayeva, Spartak Bagashvili

Soviet Union 1964

97 mins

In wake of the BFI Southbank’s recent Sergei Paradjanov retrospective, Artificial Eye is releasing the DVD of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), the film that marked a seismic shift in Paradjanov’s filmmaking style and also inadvertently landed the controversial Georgian director in a Soviet jail.

Both aesthetically and thematically the film departs dramatically from cinematic social realism, the style of choice for Soviet communist governments. An adaptation of the novel by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors traces the life of Ivan, a Ukrainian peasant, who falls in love with Marichka, the daughter of the man who killed his father. Because of the feuds between the two families, their love is forbidden and doomed. As Ivan battles with grief, the vivid colours of the traditional costumes and landscape fade to a bleak, desolate monochrome. This story of an ordinary peasant hero may have been welcomed by the Soviet authorities; but in this case, the peasant in question belongs to an ethno-cultural group of Ukrainians, known as the Hutsuls, and Paradjanov uses the film to explore and emphasise their traditions. This championing of the Hutsuls’ history and culture did not sit well with the Soviet government’s policy of Russification, but Paradjanov was adamant that the dialogue should be spoken in the Hutsul language and not dubbed into Russian. Consequently, Paradjanov was blacklisted and imprisoned (this sentence was the first of three throughout his lifetime).

This is our DVD of the month! You can win a copy of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (courtesy of Artificial Eye) on our competition page.

Paradjanov viewed the governmental control of the film industry as catastrophic. In an interview conducted a few years before his death in 1990, in characteristically dramatic fashion, he remarked: ‘Eisenstein died with only one iota of his potential fulfilled… that’s a terrible tragedy’. After seeing Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Ivan’s Childhood (1962), Paradjanov saw an alternative to the restrictive filmmaking style of his youth. The resultant aesthetic of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a mix of swooping, swirling camera angles and wide tableaux of breathtaking landscapes. In the potent opening sequence, the camera tracks a young Ivan, muffled up in a bright red coat and fur hat, trekking through snowy woodland. His arm outstretched with a loaf of bread, he calls up to an undisclosed figure on the hillside. The face of a waving, desperate man appears in urgent close-up. Suddenly the camera is up high in the treetops, a loud creak sounds, and the shot falls down past black, elongated trunks to the snow below. The figure of the little boy is pushed out of the tree’s path and the camera appears to land on the terrified face of the older man. Paradjanov cuts to his body trapped under the fallen tree, the little boy tugging at his arms through the broken branches. A horn sounds and we see the child running and tripping down the bright, white hillside, before cutting to a scene of a crucifix being erected in the bleak, wintry landscape.

This powerfully constructed opening exemplifies what is to unfold over the next hour and a half: the tragic subject matter - how innocence is lost through the experience of death - and the way in which Paradjanov approaches narrative. It is telling that at one point we see the action from the tree’s point of view and, after the moment of death and grief, the camera surveys the mountainside as the child makes his way back to his village. Rather than the focus of the shot, the little boy is merely a figure within the landscape. Nature is a major protagonist in the film. Indeed, extreme panoramic shots of characters racing up and down hills and across plains recur throughout the story. In Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, Paradjanov is not concerned with in-depth characterisation or character development; instead, he portrays the doomed Romeo and Juliet love affair as a universal, mythical folk story. The camera acts as an omnipotent narrator, rather than as a means of projecting the character’s innermost feelings.

Ivan and Marichka’s story is a tragic tale; but not one that is specific to the characters involved. While the Hutsul culture pervades the film, it is never fully clear in what historical period the action takes place, further adding to the universality of the narrative. Paradjanov used largely unknown actors and non-actors (whose acting style is theatrical and at times melodramatic) to convey a story that could be experienced by anyone, anywhere and in any time. This attempt to universalise the tale may alienate some viewers hoping for a great deal of specific personal emotion. But it is not a film devoid of passion or sentiment; it is just that the emotion is of the uncomplicated, folk-tale kind.

When Paradjanov made Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, he was experimenting with a new approach to filmmaking for the first time and the aesthetic achievement is spectacular. Although much has been made of the majestically beautiful visuals of the film the use of sound is also remarkable - idiosyncratic, bizarre and wonderful; spoken dialogue is largely replaced by a cacophony of horns, pipes, Jew’s harps and chanting to a dizzying effect. In his later films, notably The Colour of Pomegranates (1967), Paradjanov managed to create a subtler and perhaps more coherent emotional pull on his audience but the startling aesthetic and thematic seeds were sown with Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. It is commendable that Artificial Eye is providing an opportunity for audiences to see Paradjanov’s first attempt at an utterly extraordinary style of filmmaking.

Eleanor McKeown