Saturday, November 3, 2012
Sergei Paradjanov | Тіні забутих предків / Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors)
the deer returns to the birch crossby Douglas Messerli
Ivan Chendej and Sergei Paradjanov (screenplay, based on a story by Mikhaylo Kotsyubinsky), Sergei Paradjanov (director) Тіні забутих предків / Tini zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors) / 1964
Given Sergei Paradjanov’s tame, early film-making, no one might have expected his first full length feature of 1964, Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors to be so subversive. The Russian authorities, moreover, had seemingly encouraged some of the racial minorities of the vast Soviet Union to celebrate in films, dance, and literary publications their ethnicity, which this film seemingly set out to do—in this case exploring the Ukrainian Hutsul culture of the Carpathian Mountains.
Working in the meadows, in the midst of a natural world which the director celebrates with a series of startling images, Ivan increasingly misses his lover and wonders, after a story told by a worker, why he has left without marrying her. One beautiful night, a star appears in the sky sending out rays of light that seem to signal him. Not far away, Mirichka also spots the rays and is led on a search through the forest that ends with her saving a lamb. But before she can return with the stray, the soil along a cliff gives way, sending her into the river, where she drowns. Sensing something is happening, Ivan descends to the stream where he, along with others, discovers Mirichka’s body. Burying the young girl with a birch cross over his grave, Ivan observes a deer standing nearby.
Shoeing a horse, he one day meets another woman Palagna (Tatyana Bestayeva), far more sexually aware and less innocent that Mirichka. But within a short time Ivan Palagna decide to marry, the marriage ceremony played out in grand Paradjanov theatrical style.
Although it is clear that Mykhailo Kotsiubnsky’s tale has a great deal of significance to the Hutsul culture, it is surely the story that so troubled Soviet censors, but Paradjanov’s energized telling of it, as, at moments, he speeds up his camera into a kind of gyrating dance in which his figures become abstract blurs of light, or when he shifts—particularly during Ivan’s despair—from the richly colored canvas into pale black and white. At other times, Paradjanov uses almost completely abstract natural images, the way his friend Tarkovsky used them, to convey the beauty of this strange Ukrainian landscape. Beyond that, as I have suggested, he freezes his camera in front of dancers or celebrating figures dressed in exaggerated costumes. Repetitions, such as the deer’s haunting returns to Mirichka’s grave, and wildly disjunctive cuts abound. Even today, Paradjanov’s camera seems absolutely intoxicated, so it is easy to imagine the effect upon audiences that had been schooled in the staid camera movements of Soviet Realism.
Without even attempting to express dissident views, Paradjanov’s tale is so bizarrely beautiful and original that it makes almost all other cinema of its time, with the exception of Andrei Tarkovsky, appear to be boring, without significant content. As a director, Paradjanov, drunk with imagination and aestheticizing the world around him, was obviously a dangerous force.
Los Angeles, November 2, 2012