On Sunday afternoon, the eighteenth-century Armenian troubadour Sayat-Nova will come to twenty-first-century California, as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents a free screening of Sergei Parajanov’s surreal biographical film, The Color of Pomegranates, in conjunction with the exhibition In the Fields of Empty Days: The Intersection of Past and Present in Iranian Art. Martiros M. Vartanov, a leading preserver of Parajanov’s legacy whose experimental short documentary The Last Film appears as a supplement on Criterion’s recently released edition of Pomegranates, will be on hand to introduce the film.
An entrancing work that represented a stark departure from the de rigueur realism of late-sixties Soviet cinema (and thus ran afoul of the authorities), the film unfurls the story of the poet’s artistic and spiritual development in a progression of strikingly ornamented tableaux, each of which encompasses an extraordinary array of influences. As scholar Ian Christie writes in his liner essay on the film, Parajanov’s mature work draws upon “Ukrainian, Armenian, Georgian, and Azerbaijani visual and musical culture” (the director himself was born in Georgia to Armenian parents). But in Pomegranates his inspirations also extend further east—hence its inclusion under the banner of LACMA’s Iranian-art exhibition. Much of the imagery flows out of the tradition of Persian miniature painting, which Parajanov first encountered in some of its nineteenth-century manifestations at the Georgian Art Museum in Tbilisi. And it wasn’t long before Pomegranates had in turn made its influence felt back in Iran: the film, which showed in Tehran in 1972, inspired many artists there to pay homage to Qajar-dynasty painting in their own work.