Meet Sergei Parajanov, the Filmmaker Persecuted & Imprisoned by the Soviets, and Championed by Tarkovsky, Fellini, Godard, Buñuel, and Others

“Whoever tries to imitate me is lost,” said the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Parajanov. Not so long ago, whoever tried to imitate him would also be in deep trouble. Persecuted by the Soviet authorities for the “subversive” nature of both his work and his lifestyle, he spent four years of the 1970s in a Siberian hard-labor camp. Nothing could speak more highly to his artistry than the fact that, even before his sentencing, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a letter in his defense. “Artistically, there are few people in the entire world who could replace Parajanov,” argued the director of Mirror and Stalker. “He is guilty – guilty of his solitude. We are guilty of not thinking of him daily and of failing to discover the significance of a master.”

Alas, Tarkovsky’s protestations fell on deaf ears, as did those of Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and other creators besides. Parajanov had earned their respect with two features, 1965’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and 1969’s The Color of Pomegranates, clips of which you can see here.

The powers that be actually looked kindly on the former, praising its poetic adaptation of a classic novel by Ukranian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky. But the latter, a life of the 18th-century Armenian singer Sayat-Nova (the Georgia-born director was himself of Armenian heritage), seems to have gone too far in its break from the state-approved style of Socialist realism in which Parajanov once worked.

“Even when he was released, Parajanov was ‘silenced,’ as he said,” writes Messy Nessy. “He tried to get back on his movie making, but struggled for another ten years until the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1980s. When he died in 1990 at only 66, he left his final work unfinished, leaving the world to wonder what other visions of his were lost to time.” As the world has since slowly rediscovered the visions Parajanov did realize, his influence has here and there made itself felt. “I believe you have to be born a director,” he says in the interview clip above. “A director can’t be trained, not even in film school.” Directing, to his mind, “is basically the truth, transformed into images: sorrow, hope, love, beauty.” And as all those respected auteurs understood, no other filmmaker has ever seen the truth quite like he did.

via Messy Nessy

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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  • Suren says:

    These two features are fantastic. He’s an artistic giant of his time. Surely, if he was Russian he wouldn’t be as silenced but dealing with minorities (those in Carpathian mountains of Ukraine and the experimental takes on Armenians – both with highly religious symbolism) was a no-go for the light freeze of that Brezhnevian Soviet administration. The soviet thaw had ended and Parajanov was still trying to melt the restrictions away.

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