The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984)

By the time he finally got to make this, Sergei Paradjanov had spent a decade and a half doing, well, not much; when you’ve got a government putting you in jail for years and banning you from making films after they let you go, it’s a bit hard to engage in your avowed vocation. IMDB credits him with a couple of short documentaries prior to this, but this was his first feature since 1968. Remarkably, Paradjanov clearly didn’t let 15 years of harrassment break him or the continuity of his style, cos you can still see that continuity between this and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors 20 years earlier… having previously covered Ukrainian and Armenian tales, this time he takes on a Georgian legend of a fortress that keeps collapsing and which requires, well, something special to stop it falling down. Compared with Shadows, this is somewhat more straightforward in narrative terms (in that there’s a recognisable beginning and end, although at times the middle initially seems a bit opaque), and visually it’s also less immediately “what-the-fuck”… Mind you, this is still a film where the visuals kind of take precedence over the story; Paradjanov may not engage in the same sort of fuckery with lenses and camera angles, but the style is striking even so, being largely based on tableaux in fairly long-shot so that when close-ups do occur they’re quite striking. And like the other film, he gives an impressive sense of these events being removed from the world as we know it, though certainly the religious aspect of the film (particularly the presence of Islam) mitigates that somewhat. As for the act of sacrifice that ends the film, it could be read as a sop to Communist notions of giving up self-interest for the good of the many; equally, though, the foreign invaders the fortress is built to defend Georgia against could just as easily be read as those same Communists. Didn’t like this quite as much as Shadows, but still pretty good.

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