The Colour of Pomegranates is a film that defies easy categorisation: it’s part documentary, part biopic and part surrealistic cinematic poem. It’s inspired by the work of Armenian poet Sayat Nova, but instead of being a standard biographical film it uses imagery from phis oetry and his poetry itself to convey the life of this man in a tableaux vivant format. The film was directed by the Armenian Soviet Sergei Parajanov, and it film annoyed the Soviet film commission and censors because of its incomprehensible nature and use of religious imagery.
The film is mostly visual, and it is truly stunning to see the images unfold on-screen. There is very little dialogue and most of the words are Nova’s poetry, which pops up on screen in title cards. I have a sneaking suspicion that Alejandro Jodorowsky may have been influenced by the film somehow: it was rarely shown outside of Armenia because of the Soviets suppressed the film, but it certainly brings images of The Holy Mountain to the viewers’ mind. However, there is definitely a clear influence from the Soviet masters of the ’20s like Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov in how he composites the images and his editing techniques.
Parajanov ended up being arrested by the Soviet authorities on charges of rape, homosexuality and bribery, which were likely fabricated to shut down his career. Despite many protests by other filmmakers, especially Andrei Tarkovsky, he remained there for four years. He ended up back in prison in 1982 for charges of bribery.
However, the films somehow have survived, despite being suppressed by the government for well over a decade. There was a small revival of The Colour of Pomegranates in the early ’80s, which is when most filmmakers and critics first saw the film, including Martin Scorsese, whose World Cinema Foundation was behind this restoration. It might not teach you much about its subject—Sayat Nova, the “King of Song”—but it’s a film that will leave you truly stunned with its beauty, no matter which cut you see. There is the “Armenia” version or the shorter “Soviet” version, both are included here. The critic Gilbert Adair once wrote, “no historian of the medium who ignores The Color of Pomegranates can ever be taken seriously,” and there is some truth in that.
The release by Second Sight is completely rammed with features on the film and Parajanov’s work in general. There is a feature-length documentary on the making of the film, Tony Rayns talks about the campaign to see Parajanov, and exacts of another documentary on Parajanov are included, plus much more, including commentaries. The release also incudes a massive booklet that totals 114 pages and includes a introduction from none other than Scorsese.