BluRay/DVD Reviews

SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS & THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS

By • Jul 21st, 2008 •

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The name of Sergei Paradjanov is a legend in Russian (Soviet) and world cinema. His fate is one of a martyr, his fame is being one of the most unique talents, and with his death the world has lost one of its magicians.

The works of Paradjanov are extremely poetic, richly expressive, visually astounding, stylistically fearless and monumentally profound. His tales of love and tragedy are set against colorful, exotic, ethnic backgrounds and told with the naïve simplicity of folk songs and myths.

SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS of the Hutsul tribe chant their spell in the Carpathian Mountains of 19th-century Ukraine. The young protagonist falls in love with the daughter of the man who killed his father. The gloom of death curses the blossoming relationship into a tragedy. First the girl dies. Then her lover, tortured by memories and the emptiness of life without her, finds his self-forced end, and their story becomes a legend. The darkness of this poem is illuminated and purified by incredible cinematography. The sadness of the story leaves a long-lasting aftertaste.

The film was first released in 1964. Paradjanov was criticized, outcast and eventually imprisoned. He had allowed himself to have the luxury of freedom of expression in an un-free society, and that had to be punished. Yes, it shut down his talent as a filmmaker, but it didn’t break him, nor did it kill his gift as an artist. When released, he showed his impressions of life behind barbed wire, exhibiting his drawings, ceramics, dolls and poetry, and he made new films.

THE LEGEND OF SURAM FORTRESS (1984) is set in the Caucus Mountains of medieval Georgia. Repeated efforts of people to build a fortress to defend their country constantly fail. The young protagonist, released from slavery, leaves his beloved, promising to come back when he has means to pay for her freedom. His wanderings bring him to a rich merchant who helps him to start a new prosperous life with a new woman who bears him a son. The abandoned lover, sick with grief, becomes a fortuneteller. When years later a group of warriors comes to her for advice in regards to the troubling fortress, she tells the son of her never-forgiven lover that only a self-sacrifice will make the construction stand up. He entombs himself within a wall of the fortress, thus securing its strength, saving his motherland and fulfilling the prophecy. The unquestionable deed of a sacrifice for the sake of the glory of the country is sublimated into poetry of the highest caliber, and the fantastic imagery and music make it a cinematic ode.

Besides these carefully restored films, the DVDs also contain interviews, documentaries, featurettes and other materials about or dedicated to Sergei Paradjanov and his art. His wife’s memories are warm, whimsical, sad and haunting. The cinematographic wonder of ISLANDS, a documentary comparing the artistic worlds of Paradjanov and Tarkovsky is extraordinary, symbolic and heart breaking.

The digitally preserved magic of Sergei Parajanov’s old masterpieces makes your love of the cinema young again. And though Paradjanov’s freedom of expression would still be a luxury (in a “free society”) it is so enviable and so inspiring.

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