The films of Sergei Parajanov (1924–90) are utterly spellbinding (wiki here, or this succinct introduction by the splendid Elif Batuman; for photos, see here). I’ve already featured The colour of pomegranates in a tribute to my much-missed friend Natasha, but Parajanov’s other surreal fantasies on the folk cultures of the Caucasus also deserve a tribute.
An Armenian brought up in Georgia, he was inspired by Tarkovsky. His surreal, mystical, sumptuous, austere vision was utterly at odds with Soviet orthodoxy, at a time when people had little choice but to retreat into private worlds (cf. The whisperers).
Shadows of forgotten ancestors (1964) was filmed among the Hutsul people (see here, and here) in the Carpathians of west Ukraine (for Parajanov’s bond with Ukraine, click here) (the film appears intermittently on YouTube, if this link no longer works):
The colour of pomegranates (1969) is his Armenian film. While you may just wish to let the images wash over you (cf. the merits of analysing Beatles songs), a useful companion is The world is a window:
including insights into the creation of the musical soundtrack (from 46.55). Indeed, apart from the sumptuous visuals, Parajanov’s films are a treasury of folk vocal and instrumental music, which had been so thoroughly repressed under Stalin.
The tableaus, not quite static, almost recall Messiaen.
The Soviet authorities had regularly persecuted Parajanov ever since 1948. But released from prison in the wake of glasnost, he was able to make two more masterpieces:
The Legend of Suram Fortress (1984), celebrating Georgian folk culture:
and Ashik Kerib (1988), his last completed film, exploring the folk culture of Azerbaijan:
including the singing of Alim Qasimov (for Uyghur mendicants, cf. the ethnographic film Ashiq: the last troubadour).
Sure, Parajanov was hounded and imprisoned under the Soviet system; but somehow he managed to make these priceless, visionary films. Such creative imagination couldn’t find an expression in Maoist China.