Starting out as a humble weaver, Sayat Nova (Sophico Chiurelli) serves as the king's minstrel and as a cloistered monk before being martyred for his faith by invading infidels.
In 1968, Sergei Paradjanov was arrested for supporting Ukrainian dissidents and exiled to the Amo-Bek-Nazarov Studios at Yerevan in Armenia. As part of his punishment, the Soviet authorities rejected numerous film scripts before finally passing The Colour of Pomegranates. However, the censors clearly didn't realise what a politically and culturally contentious picture they were sanctioning.
Ostensibly, the film was based on the life of the Armenian poet Aruthin Sayadin (1712-95), the weaver who became known as `Sayat Nova' or the King of Song on becoming court minstrel to King Heracle II of Georgia. However, his career looked over when he was sent to a monastery for seducing the king's sister, Anna. But he rose through the ecclesiastical ranks and was Archbishop of Tiflis when he was martyred on the steps of his cathedral by the invading Persians. However, Paradjanov wasn't interested in the sacrifice of a national hero or his status as an artist. He was fascinated by the psychological and intellectual shifts that enabled a peasant to become a troubadour and then a saint and the part that was played in these transformations by fate, love and soul. Consequently, he spurned dialogue and confined Sayadin's verses to a handful of captions in order to present an expressionist reverie that was acted out to classical Armenian music. Logic mattered less than lyricism and the sumptuous tapestry of rich colours, stylised movements and innovative symbols that Paradjanov concocted remains without parallel in world cinema. Without realising that Paradjanov had slipped numerous allusions to Armenian nationalism into his iconoclastic tableaux, the Kremlin banned the film for its formalism (shorthand for the fact that anything of such dazzling beauty and ambiguity had to be subversive and/or self-indulgent). However, it now stands as a monument to the vision and courage of a remarkable artist.
A remarkably beautiful and inspiring piece of cinema from an exiled Russian director with the courage to subtly challenge the treatment of the Ukraine and Armenia under the Russians.