Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

Talking of frustrated careers, few were as frustrated as that of Sergei Paradjanov; he was blacklisted almost as soon as this film appeared, and even when they didn’t have him in prison somewhere, Soviet authorities made it difficult for him to make films thereafter. But what films he did  make… I saw The Colour of Pomegranates for the first and only time back in 1990 on SBS (THERE’s a film I’d give good money to get a good DVD of, if only one existed; the Kino disc of it is apparently a bit shit), and now I’ve seen his first acknowledged film. And HOLY SHIT. I thought some of the camerawork Urusevsky was doing for Mikhail Kalatozov at that time was extravagant, but some of this stuff can only be described as mental. And that’s just the movements and angles I’m talking about (poor David Stratton would have a stroke in the face of this film), the contents of some of those shots are another matter. Narratively I suppose you’d call it a kind of folktale, located among a specific ethnic group from the Carpathian mountains (the Hutsuls), and we’re taken totally into the world it depicts; Paradjanov’s particular achievement in telling it, though, is not just to render it timeless (though obviously Christianised, it’s hard to escape the feeling these people essentially invoke God, Jesus and St George as if those were merely new names for deities they’d worshipped for millennia) but also so far removed from what we humorously call civilisation that it might as well be another planet. Nothing if not singular stuff, and I don’t think I’m overstating by calling this one of the most beautiful films I’ve ever seen, though clearly it’s not the sort of thing you’d inflict on someone as a first taste of non-Hollywood world cinema. Unless, of course, you really want to throw them in at the deep end. Amazing, though.

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One thought on “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965)

  1. Joachim Boaz May 14, 2011 at 6:28 am

    I absolutely loved this film (and The Color of Pomegranates)! If only Paradjanov was allowed to make the films he wanted too…

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