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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.37:1 Standard
  • Russian PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • New audio commentary featuring critic Tony Rayns
  • New video essay on the filmís symbols and references, featuring scholar James Steffen
  • New interview with James Steffen detailing the production of the film
  • Sergei Parajanov: The Rebel, a 2003 documentary about the filmmaker, featuring him and actor Sofiko Chiaureli
  • The Life of Sayat-Nova, a 1977 documentary about the Armenian poet who inspired The Color of Pomegranates
  • An essay by film scholar Ian Christie

The Color of Pomegranates

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Sergei Parajanov
1969 | 78 Minutes | Licensor: World Cinema Project

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #918
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: April 17, 2018
Review Date: July 14, 2018

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SYNOPSIS

A breathtaking fusion of poetry, ethnography, and cinema, Sergei Parajanovís masterwork overflows with images and sounds that burn into the memory. In a series of tableaux that blend the tactile with the abstract, The Color of Pomegranates revives the splendors of Armenian culture through the story of the eighteenth-century troubadour Sayat-Nova, charting his intellectual, artistic, and spiritual growth through iconographic compositions rather than traditional narrative. The filmís tapestry of folklore and metaphor departed from the realism that dominated the Soviet cinema of its era, leading authorities to block its distribution, with rare underground screenings presenting it in a restructured form. This edition features the cut closest to Parajanovís original vision, in a restoration that brings new life to one of cinemaís most enigmatic meditations on art and beauty.

The Color of Pomegranates was restored by The Film Foundationís World Cinema Project and the Cineteca di Bologna, in association with the National Cinema Centre of Armenia and Gosfilmofond of Russia, and funded by the Material World Charitable Foundation.


PICTURE

Sergei Parajanovís The Color of Pomegranates comes to Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode comes from a new 4K restoration sourced from the 35mm original camera negative and a 35mm duplicate negative. The film was heavily censored at the time of its release and unfortunately a lot of that footage has been lost. The version presented here is the ďArmenian VersionĒ, which is as close to Parajanovís original cut as possible. The ďRussian VersionĒ is not included on this release.

Limiting things first to just the encode and how it is technically presented here the image is beyond impressive. When the source allows it, the image is very sharp and incredibly detailed, best showcased in the intricacies of the lace that show up in a few shots, while also impeccably rendering the filmís grain structure, keeping the image clean and natural and offering a wonderful filmic texture. Impressive as well is the clean-up work that has gone into this and shy of a few minor inconsistencies that remain (a few minor marks or sequences where the image goes a little fuzzy because an alternate source needed to be used) the image is pretty flawless a good chunk of the time. Itís a really sharp, clean looking image, and quite impressive from a technical level.

What throws it off ultimately, and comes off highly questionable, isóyet againóthis really heavy yellow tint that has been draped over everything. And itís not subtle. I guess it is possible this is how it is supposed to look but it just throws off plenty of other aspects of the image that I just need question it. Reds and yellows (of course) come off looking fine but everything else, blues, grays, whites, and more, are all off, taking off that heavy yellow look. Black levels are also thrown off at times and it destroys shadow detail. Iím not an authority here because I have no idea how the film is supposed to look, so yeah, anything I say should be taken with a grain of salt. But Iíll give a presentation leeway if I think that the look suits the film, like Criterionís recent Midnight Cowboy, which I know plenty questioned but a.) it suits the stylized nature of the film; b.) doesnít look too far removed from a lot of 70s films; and c.) the colour alterations werenít blanketly applied to every shot of the film. And then there are times where I might question colours but it just ultimately doesnít bother me enough to even use it as a significant strike (Dressed to Kill comes to mind). But this one feels wrong. Watching it, it just doesnít feel like it should lean this much on the warm side of the spectrum and it looks ugly. But here it is and itís a shame because I like everything else about the final image, finding it at least technically impressive (it looks like a film) but those colours are nasty and I just feel that this wasnít the intended look for the film.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The audio, presented in lossless PCM 1.0 monaural, is also a bit hard to judge. Music and what little dialogue there is can come off a bit harsh and edgy (which I blame more on source materials and equipment at the time) but not unpleasant. It has some range to it but the louder moments get a little harsher. Itís fine enough ultimately but it shows its age.

5/10

SUPPLEMENTS

This is not an easy film by any means and newcomers going into it cold wonít be faulted for coming away from it perplexed. Itís abstract, presented in a sequence of moving tableaus, and seems to assume you will have at least some knowledge of the troubadour (minstrel/poet) Sayat-Nova and know a little about Armenian history. I failed that test the first time I saw the film so while I got the basic story being told through its visuals I missed a lot of the significance in the symbolism in the images and despite doing research after the fact I was still lost as to what it all meant. Criterion, bless their heart, have put together a wonderful set of features, most of which work as a CliffsNotes (Coles Notes for the Canadians out there) companion to the film, working to clearly explain what the film means, even right down to individual shots.

One of the more valuable additions is a new audio commentary from critic Tony Rayns. Rayns delivered an extraordinary commentary track for Criterionís edition for A Brighter Summer Day, another film that can baffle newcomers despite being significantly more straightforward than The Color of Pomegranates. For this track Rayns yet again works to clarify the film for the listener and though this track doesnít feel as in-depth as the one he provided for A Brighter Summer Day he is clearly covering as much as he can and is mostly limited by the length of the film: A Brighter Summer Day runs just shy of 4-hours while this version of The Color of Pomegranates runs less than 80-minutes. Even with that limitation I feel Rayns does an incredible job here, explaining the history of the region, discussing Sayat-Nova and his work, and how the film represents that work and periods of his life, while also explaining the political climate of the region during the time when the film was made and when it takes place. Heís giving a wide-ranging history lesson covering a vast number of subjects so that not only will the film make more sense to North American viewers but also clarify why Parajanov felt inclined to make the film in the first place. Though another feature found on this release will work to clarify the film even more, Raynsí contribution here is absolutely invaluable. It didnít explain every single little detail about what weíre seeing but it was a great starting point and proved far more rewarding than all of the Googling I did after my initial viewing.

Criterion next includes the loosely related 1969 short film The Color of Armenian Land, directed by Mikhail Vartanov, showcasing Armenian artóboth ancient and modernócapturing Armenian culture. The film also features behind-the-scenes of footage of the filming of The Color of Pomegranates, Parajanov himself even appearing. Itís more experimental but seems wholly uncontroversial itself, yet this film was banned by the Soviet censors for a handful of reasons: not only did they feel it focused too heavily on the past it also featured Parajanov and painter Minas Avetisyan, two artist in poor favour with the censors, and that alone was enough to get the film banned some 43-years before finally screening in 2012.

James Steffen, author of The Cinema of Sergei Parajanov, next provides two features for this release. Under Redefining Cinema Steffen first offers a 19-minute interview about Parajanovís early work (which were mainly genre films) and then his turn to making more significant films after finding inspiration in Andrei Tarkovskyís Ivanís Childhood. Steffen also talks more about issues the film ran into with the Soviet censors and its rise in stature through the years.

That contribution offers a good overview of Parajanov and the film, but Steffen outdoes himself with the next feature, the 42-minute Decoding The Color of Pomegranates, an incredibly thorough visual essay about the structure of the film and the meaning behind it sequences and heavy symbolism. Rayns commentary does touch on this of course, but in a broader way, while Steffenís feature gets more into the nitty-gritty, offering more focus and details on specific shots in relation to Sayat-Novaís writings, references to other artworks, links to religion, and even what are ďjokesĒ within the film (admittedly completely lost on me). Like Raynsí commentary this proves to be an absolutely vital addition to the release, once again aiding those unfamiliar with the subject of the.

Criterion then throws in two features respectively focusing on the filmís director and its subject matter. Sergei Parajanov: The Rebel is a 51-minute documentary on the director from 2003, offering a look at his life and work, featuring footage of him filming (I think) Ashik Kerib. Itís a good tribute with interview footage but I was more appreciative of a 1977 episode from the French program Foi et traditions des chrťtiens orientaux (which translates loosely to ďFaith and Traditions of Eastern ChristiansĒ) covering Sayat-Nova, covering his early later life while also presenting samples of poems and music. It runs 26-minutes.

The disc then closes with The Last Film, a 3-minute short film by Martiros Vartanov. Itís a curious film, featuring Vartanovís friend Taguhi Vardanyan talking about the only film she ever worked on, done in a style that pays tribute to the work of Sergei Parajanov and Mikhail Vartanov. Itís a bit of a dubious inclusion as it doesnít have a direct relation to The Color of Pomegranates other than Martiros Vartanov is the founder of the Parajanov-Vartanov Institute, which has the aim of preserving the films of the two directors. But despite any weak relation to the feature film on the disc itís harmless and it ends up being a fascinating (but short) little examination on filmmaking.

The included insert then features an essay on the film by Ian Christie. Oddly, Criterion has decided not to include the censored version of the film, referred to as the ďRussian Version,Ē which was included on the Region B Second Sight release. That edition also included additional features, including a 2006 documentary called Memories About Sayat Nova. Iím not sure if rights issues held Criterion back on including this material but itís a bit of a shame, particularly the lack of the alternate version.

Still, Criterion has put together a great set of features, which provide background for the filmmaker and the filmís subject, while also helping one interpret this difficult film.

8/10

CLOSING

Though I wish some of the material available on other editions (like the alternate Russian version of the film found on the Region B release) the supplements are wonderful and should help viewers in deciphering the film. Unfortunately the presentation, while solid on a technical/encode level, is thrown off by a rather grating yellow tint that I just have to say doesnít look right.


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