Thursday, 30 July 2015

Rebel Beauty

Last year I visited the Sergej Parajanov museum in Yerevan. I had not heard of the filmmaker (1924-1990) before coming to Armenia, but everything I learned about him I liked - his slightly crazy house, accounts of his visually arresting films, and his courage in resisting the Soviets by depicting minority cultures (such as Ukraine's Hutsuls and his native Armenia).

As is so often the case with things you hotly promise youself to do, it took me some time to actually see one of Parajanov's films. It is only today that I got around to watching his probably most famous work, The Colour of Pomegranates (1969). The film traces the life of the Armenian 18th-century poet Sayat Nova through an series of elliptical and otherwordly tableaux vivants

The whole thing is extremely beautiful and extremely bizarre - you cannot quite grasp the effort all these scenes must have taken. What also struck me was the queer undercurrent of the scenes: The men are handsome and sensual and often half-naked, and the poet Sayat Nova is played by an androgynous actress (think Tilda Swinton in Sally Potter's Orlando)

In the museum I'd read that Parajnov had spent many years behind bars for his confrontation with the Soviet system and his refusal to submit to the socialist realist style. What was totally omitted, however, and what some research soon unearthed, is that two of Parajanov's arrests were for "homosexual acts".  Parajanov reportedly denied these charges and he was subsequently married twice, but James Steffen, a specialist on Parajanov, states that the filmmaker was "probaby bisexual, with a preference for men." 

The whole issue is rather nebulous, which is why a recent Ukrainian-produced feature explores this controversial aspect of Parajanov's life. I cannot wait to get my hands on it. And more importantly, I cannot wait to see more of Parajanov's films. Gay, bi, or whatever you want him to be. 'Genius' will cover it either way.

"Parajanov" (2013), Serge Avedikian

The Colour of Pomegranates (1969)

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