The Color of Pomegranates (1969)
Not rated. Probably the most controversial thing in the movie is a non-sexualized image of a woman's breast. It is done in an avant-garde style, so it is presented almost like a painting. The movie also makes some bold, if not cryptic, statements about Christianity. As a Catholic, these images intrigue me. But I can easily see how the imagery presented could be considered offensive because the meaning behind these images is so bizarre. Not rated.
DIRECTOR: Sergei Parajanov
Oh man, am I glad to have watched this after taking my poetry theory class. We studied the poetry of prayer for a unit and I read all kinds of stuff that made my heart sink. I tend to be kind of anti-avante-garde. I'm not proud of that. I think I'm pretty open-minded towards a lot of film, but avante-garde always asks me to take a leap too far. I mean, I didn't absolutely hate Koyaanisqatsi. I didn't love it. But I didn't hate it. But looking at The Color of Pomegranates as both a piece of ethnographic cinema and as a work of art is something that actually kind of tickled me.
I'm not going to say that I had a good time. I know me and that wasn't me having fun. But it was something that got my gears moving. The Color of Pomegranates, as I learned from the pre-film text, is actually an edited American version of a longer film. This is painfully glib, but I think I got it. I don't need to dive down that rabbit hole too much further because it all pretty much made sense on the first try. Okay, it didn't make sense. That's also something that I have to keep in mind. Parajanov does something that I haven't really seen with ethnographic film. A lot of the ethnographic, avante-garde stuff is meant to make me feel uncomfortable. I am thinking of my experience with stuff like In the Realm of the Senses or some of the work that I've seen from Werner Herzog. But Parajanov doesn't treat his subjects with contempt. Watching The Color of Pomegranates almost made me feel like a child sitting through Mass for the first time. There is a sense of holiness and something that is bigger than the congregation. It doesn't quite make sense, but there's an odd attention to ritual and the supernatural. I actually was raised Ukrainian Catholic. I went to Byzantine liturgies. I'm not Armenian, but the Eastern influences pervade the film thoroughly. I don't know if this makes my experience with The Color of Pomegranates different than my peers'. It is a film that seems both warm and cold. The actors in the film are treated almost like marionettes. Often, actors in the film are bedecked with surreal makeup and clothing and just stand there. If there is a light narrative to their scenes, the performances are either done in a cinema verite style or in an overly stylized attitude, almost like a computer mimicking what reality is like. The effect, overall, is this almost awe at what is being seen. I don't want to admit to tuning out at Mass from time-to-time. I just know that I'm not a multitasker and I'd like to apologize to God to that right now. But much of the film almost mirrors that. There were moments where I was starring at these absolutely gorgeous and surreal shots, trying to interpret what I was looking at. In the next moment, I noticed that five minutes had past. I can't say that I didn't watch it. But my consciousness almost went to another level. I simply became part of the film in these moments. I wasn't even daydreaming. Again, I don't want to admit to tuning out while driving, but there are often times that I'm shocked that I'm at work already. The Color of Pomegranates does this throughout.
I think that The Color of Pomegranates might be the most sensory movie that I've ever seen. I would love to show this film to my English class because I have a hard time taking kids to the next level when it comes to teaching imagery. From moment one, HECK, from the title, we can get that this is about imagery. I know that the original title was something else, but the film is obsessed with going in a direction when it comes to senses outside of simply being a visual film. I know it is not the only experience that the film offers, but The Color of Pomegranates is obsessed with the way that liquid affects things. The first series of shots past the opening titles is water flowing around books. The movie has about half a dozen people draining water out of books. Sure, I wish that I knew where to find such an effective rock to squeeze the water out of my waterlogged books, but that moment shook me. I don't know what it is about that image that is so universal. I know that water and liquid is central to the human experience. But there's something absolutely mesmerizing about water flow and affect the world around it. Somehow, and I'm still kind of puzzling it out, most of the senses are addressed in this almost hypnotic fashion. Two men climb into a hole in the ground. They pull themselves out. Parajanov was a poet. The entire film is actually a book of poetry. He even refers to himself as the poet and the script as poetry. If I had to encapsulate what a poem is visually and sensually, this is the movie that really does it. One of the biggest frustrations about writing poetry was trying to find grounding imagery to act as the triggering subject in my pieces. But by actually making a film, Parajanov is making the images support his words and his words support his imagery. I just ripped apart Mulholland Drive, criticizing it because I really do believe that it is weird for weird's sake. The Color of Pomegranates does what Mulholland Drive and similar Lynch pieces fail to do. Lynch often uses bizarre imagery to reach an emotion. Often, it is that traditionally ethnographic alienation that a lot of films utilize. That element of confusion mixed with disgust is what Lynch often tries to reach. But this entire film really lacks a formal narrative. There's a hint of a narrative in the background. I somewhat understand what the poet is speaking about within his childhood, but there is no formality or objectivity behind it. But Parajanov elicits a whole range of emotions when creating his film. He attacks the senses. He finds ground in paradox. There's a scene where lambs are being bled and skinned for sacrifice. After my experience with "Blood of the Beasts", I thought I could never handle a scene like this again. It really hits a lot of buttons. But there was something holy and disturbing at the same time. Similarly, Parajanov inverts the imagery. He has a funeral mass being read while the corpse and the priest are surrounded by what seem like a hundred or so sheep. The callbacks to the Bible and religious texts don't point to religion as something silly or something to be disregarded. Quite the contrary, the movie almost stands in awe of the rich culture that goes into these traditions. I don't know if The Color of Pomegranates is a celebration of religion. But what the movie does, when so few movies do, is find respect in the religion. These people are absolutely committed to their faith. Perhaps I'm simply used to profane images acting as sledgehammers when it comes to commenting on religion. But Parajanov shows some absolutely gorgeous pieces. The people embodying religious ikons don't look silly or oafish. Rather, they are as close as personifying the supernatural as one can get, especially considering that the film was made in 1969 and probably on an extreme budget. The cuts and effects, if I can even call them that, are shoestring. They aren't there to fool you. They're there to create a sense of unity of idea.
The Color of Pomegranates isn't exactly what I consider a good time. If was roaming the halls of a museum and The Color of Pomegranates was the attraction, I would probably watch it for a few minutes before moving on. But committing to watching the movie as a whole is a unique experience. It does almost seem like something holy in itself. I don't want to find out if it is actually a criticism about faith because the movie does seem so in awe of a higher power above it. I was an emotional experience. It is the feeling I am supposed to get when I appreciate art. That's probably because I actually did just that: appreciate this movie for art.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.