January 31, 2008

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors


Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of 5): ****

Director Sergei Parajanov (1924-1990) suffered for his art. Nearly age 40, and bored with documentaries and other films that were Soviet-approved, he balked and began making films for his own pleasure. From there, he suffered years of butting heads with the authorities, arrested, prohibited and otherwise hounded, he managed to squeeze out only a few more films in his career. Now Kino Video has released a four-disc box set of essential Parajanov films: Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), The Color of Pomegranates (1968), The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984) and Ashik Kerib (1988); watching his breakthrough feature Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors reveals an undeniable sense of joy -- and even release -- in every frame.

The film begins as a star-crossed romance. In 19th century Ukraine, young Ivan falls in love with Marichka, whose father has killed Ivan's father, ostensibly making the two families enemies. The two grow up and secretly continue their romance in the face of much scorn. Ivan (Ivan Mikolajchuk) leaves to earn money for their wedding, but Marichka (Larisa Kadochnikova) dies in an accident. Ivan eventually remarries, but is consumed with obsession and loss. His new wife (Tatyana Bestayeva) becomes involved with a sorcerer and Ivan begins to hallucinate.

Between the sorcerer and the hallucinations, the movie's images become less and less realistic, venturing into a hazy yet newly revived visual sense. The movie's camerawork reminded me of certain low-budget, high-energy Hong Kong martial arts classics, with zippy movements and wide angles that render a deep, breathtakingly vivid space. The actors moving through this space seem to cover more ground, more quickly than in real life, lending the film an exciting briskness. Likewise, Parajanov uses an astonishing palate of rich colors -- nicely preserved on the DVD -- that pulsate, dimming and brightening according to the mood. At its darkest, the film goes completely to black and white. Parajanov seems perfectly comfortable in all elements: night, day, exteriors and interiors; they all spring strongly to life.

Kino's DVD comes with a 39-minute documentary about Parajanov and his friend, Andrei Tarkovsky (himself a master Russian filmmaker), as well as assorted other extras.

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Posted by cphillips at January 31, 2008 3:47 PM