BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Soviet revolution.

SERGI PARADJANOV’s The Colour of Pomegranates is one of the most formally and politically revolutionary films ever made, so it’s of no surprise that some his other work will be infused with the ‘dissident’ qualities that saw him languishing in jail for a considerable time. After all, he eschewed the montage, socialist realism and cautionary tales of collectivism that had been the staple of Soviet cinema since the heydays of early Eisenstein. Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors was also provocative in quite a different way to The Colour of Pomegranates – stylistically it was a hotpotch of camerawork with formal icon-like shots (paving the way for the latter film), shaky handheld shots, and some of the more inventive camera shots in film history (I’m talking specifically about the two deaths that punctuate the opening section of the film). But it’s not simply the camerawork that assaults – sounds (e.g. the giant trumpets or the swish of the grass), tastes (you could feel an apple being eaten), and touches. Paradjanov doesn’t hold back in his visual flourishes either – colour dissolves to black and white, impossible camera frames jump out without warning, images appear all in red – yet they all service the story. We feel Ivanko’s pain and solitude. Consequently this is a film to be felt, it’s cinema at its most sensual and elemental.

The storyline is basic in a mythic kind of way. It has the same tempestuous feel of Wuthering Heights, all moody protagonists and uncompromising landscapes. A boy falls in love with the daughter of his father’s enemy. As events conspire their love proves unrequited, and the now adult man pines his life away. Set in the fierce Carpathian Mountains, the story is as simple as the plundering seasons of the film, whether it’s the lofty snows or the gentle summer breeze. Fire, water and earth play common visual motifs throughout too, this love is not simply a Hollywood fluff piece for the latest teen star, this is integrally tied into the land.

There’s also a subversive Christian streak to the film, themes of purity, devotion and faith get played out in a movie environment that wasn’t particularly renowned for religiosity. Furthermore, Paradjanov doesn’t bother with simplistic Soviet nationalism either, this is an intimately regional piece that celebrates Ukrainian life (Paradjanov studied with the great director Dovzhenko, whose lyrical celebrations of folk life had clearly influenced Parajanov’s sensibility). Of course, The Colour of Pomegranates with its Armenian overtones was far more direct in its challenge to the Soviet authorities. This is a remarkable film, a film which ushered in similar groundbreaking pieces of work by Eastern European and Soviet directors such as Tarkovsky (though Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood was important for the creation of the vision of this film), Jancso, Vlácil, Chytilova etc. Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors is a masterpiece that heralded Paradjanov as one of the most fascinating and tragic directors in world cinema.