Goings On

Parajanov and Tarkovsky in London

On Film / The Daily — Mar 14, 2019
Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Parajanov

Sergei Parajanov often said that seeing Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature, Ivan’s Childhood (1962), was a crucial factor in his decision to abandon the socialist realism of his early work and to set out on a new aesthetic project that would draw on the folklore and cultures he’d known as a child of Armenian parents growing up in Georgia. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), based on the book by Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, would be his international breakthrough, and The Color of Pomegranates (1969), inspired by the life of the eighteenth-century Armenian singer Sayat-Nova, established Parajanov’s reputation as a unique and vibrant stylist. In a piece for the BFI last summer, Patrick Gamble wrote that the “paradoxical beauty and dream-like spectacle” of these films would influence Tarkovsky’s later work. “The poetic convergence of authorial objectivity and the protagonists’ subjectivity in The Color of Pomegranates is a clear influence on both Nostalgia [1983] and The Sacrifice [1986],” he argued, “with both directors giving their internal sorrow a poetic form in the suffering of their leads.” The Close-Up Film Centre in London is currently presenting the work of both directors in side-by-side series running through the end of the month.

One of the highlights of the Parajanov retrospective will be restoration specialist Daniel Bird’s presentation of outtakes from The Color of Pomegranates on March 30. Bird screened these outtakes and a few other newly restored films by Parajanov for a forty-five-minute program that premiered in Rotterdam earlier this year. “I cannot say how many ideas, how much humor, how much melancholy, how much imagination is in that forty-five minutes,” Bird has told Port Magazine. “Parajanov had a mentality that you can be profoundly clever, vulgar, sad, and humorous at the same time. You can be all of these—you can be alive.”

Like most Soviet filmmakers, Parajanov and Tarkovsky both attended the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow, the oldest and one of the most renowned film schools in the world. But the directors wouldn’t become close friends until the early 1970s, when the authorities, who regarded Parajanov as a subversive bisexual, sentenced him to five years of hard labor. Tarkovsky joined Jean-Luc Godard, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and other prominent filmmakers and writers in protesting the sentence, and then struck up a correspondence with Parajanov. In return for Tarkovsky’s letters, Parajanov sent back collages as colorful and creative as his films. “He makes collages, dolls, hats, drawings, or something that you may call ‘design,’” Tarkovsky once wrote. “There is much more to it, though: it is infinitely more talented and noble; it is real art. What is the secret of its beauty? The spontaneity . . . The emotion that triggered creation turns into something finite without a single drop spilled. It gets through in its original pureness, spontaneity, and naiveté.”

In the 2012 exhibition Mirror & Pomegranate, London’s White Space Gallery paired several of these collages with Polaroids that Tarkovsky began taking with the camera that Antonioni had given him in the 1970s and carried on making until cancer took him in 1986. Following the world premiere at the Munich Film Festival in 1988 of Parajanov’s final completed feature, Ashik Kerib, codirected with Dodo Abashidze, Parajanov called for a moment of silence in remembrance of Tarkovsky. As with the outtakes from The Color of Pomegranates, it seems there will always be more from Tarkovsky to discover as well. Just last month, Seagull Books and the Chicago University Press released Time within Time: The Diaries, 1970–1986, a new collection translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair.

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