Despite the feud between their fathers, Ivan and Marichka become lovers. However, she drowns during a temporary separation and, after a period of grief, he marries Palagna, whose treacherous carnality contrasts with the purity of the lost love, with whom he is eventually reunited in death.
Adapted from the Carpathian writer M. Kotsubinsky's novella, `Wild Horses of Fire', Sergei Paradjanov's masterpiece won a raft of awards at international film festivals. Yet it was scarcely seen in his homeland, as much through studio hostility as official disapproval. However, the accusations of formalism and Ukrainean nationalism stuck and, having had numerous projects blocked, Paradjanov was arrested on bogus charges of gay rape, the spread of venereal disease and the trafficking of icons, and, although he was released in 1977, he never completed another film.
Perceptive critics have identified the indomitable spiritual dimension of this astonishing feature as the reason for its hostile reception. But the audacious technique, which was intended to convey both the ethereality of the tale and its allegorical discussion of the stages of existence, so confused the Soviet cinematic establishment that it presumed that the shadow cast by the past shrouded a seditious political message. However, Paradjanov's sole purpose was to challenge conventional methods of screen storytelling and redefine the audience's relationship to the moving image. Thus, he deconstructed the very processes of narration and representation, so that every frame confounded the viewer's expectation and forced them to reappraise both the action itself and their approach to spectatorship. In order to achieve this, he made flamboyant use of Yuri Ilyenko's camera, which seemed to plunge from the top of a tree, peer without distortion through a pool of water and elongate vistas through the use of 180° fish-eye lenses, whose wide angles disorientated as much as the minute-long 360° spin that blurred shapes and images into an abstraction that approximated the troubled world of the mythical storyline. Sound and colour were similarly exploited. Lush orchestrations, discordant sounds, folk music, natural noises and religious chanting were all employed to reinforce the psychological significance of scenes that were designed according to a `dramaturgy of colour' that passed from the white innocence of childhood and the green optimism of youth through moments of monochrome and sepia despair to the blazing shades of transient contentment, the autumnal hues of resignation and the reds and blues of oblivion. Pure genius.
A cinematic masterpiece, deconstructing the cinematic form and message and blowing the audience away with its multi-layered imagery.