Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
- 1h 37m
A timeless Carpathian story - the young Ivan falls in love with the daughter of his father's killer among the Hutsul people of Ukraine.A timeless Carpathian story - the young Ivan falls in love with the daughter of his father's killer among the Hutsul people of Ukraine.A timeless Carpathian story - the young Ivan falls in love with the daughter of his father's killer among the Hutsul people of Ukraine.
The story is deceptively simple; young man loves, loses, and has to scramble on with life. But the way it burrows into you and speaks now, even though it's from another time, well, the way it's done is from another world.
To Western viewers, it will seem quite literally like something from another world. It profoundly speaks to me because I was lucky that me and him share a part of that other world, the one closer to the steppe. The difference between worlds is simple; in the West, you had the luxury of painting and theater, and music melded into that with opera, so when cinema rolled around a few centuries later, there was already an established reservoir of ways to see and imagine. The first films were little more than filmed plays with the camera assuming the role of the audience, later renovated in France (partly) through the influence of impressionist painting.
Parajanov was Armenian, which is to say from that world that ages ago was swept by invaders from the steppe. There was no lofty art allowed in the centuries of Ottoman blight, nowhere in the empire. There was no Rennaisance. Not there and not where I write this from. Our painting was religious icons. Our theater was song and dance. The collective soul had to pour that way, which is why they still persist and resonate in these parts; in the work of Kazantzakis, Bregovic, Kusturica and others, also why Western-influenced makers like Angelopoulos or Ceylan speak far less to the common folk.
You have to appreciate the significance of this in terms of cinema. There was already an established Soviet tradition in film in those days, Parajanov was a student at the prestigious VGIK after all. But, he chose to go even beyond Dovzhenko, a teacher of his at VGIK, who framed his films, back when he was still allowed by censors, as poetic remembrance of ancient past.
The memory of it was not enough, it had to have soul of its own now, what in the Spanish-speaking world is called the duende. It had to be a song that cuts deep and rises from bloody earth.
But, this is the genius of Parajanov. So a memory that is sang and danced out by the camera, and because he is not constrained by a visual tradition, the world of the film is freeform and spontaneous waters, an absolute marvel to watch. But he doesn't just photograph the iconography of the dance from the outside, simple pageantry.
That iconography is vivid and immediate in itself, you don't need special keys. Austere suffering saints look down at suffering. The mourning fire that burns in him and has to go out by itself. A lamb is caressed the way his soul needs it. Songs as hearsay overlain on scenes of life.
That is all melody to the song, lyrical cadence in terms of images. We'd be lucky if most filmmakers saw that far, most just center on story or character and parse out what beats result. Parajanov does neither, in a similar way to his friend Tarkovsky.
He provides deeply felt illogical machinery of that world to swim into, remember this is a world where sorcery is believed and wards off a storm, and prayer manifests as a lout from the woods looking for sex, in other words, we are not mere spectators to a gaudy visual dance from faraway times, the film is made so that we feel the urges and pulls of the world dancing around us. He pulls fabric to film from the ether around the edges of someome experiencing a story, the same deeply felt air that a singer cannot put to words and responds to with a song.
Look for the amazing finale. The film is bookended by death, but it's death that none of the individual scenes reasonably explain, it can only maybe have allusive extra-logical sense in being pieced by you. It is something that specifically has meaning that you let go. The thing is that him confronting or being confronted at the tavern, is, in itself, knowing about the sorcerer and his wife, knowing at the same instant that his father's death was the result of a similarly veiled and bubbling causality, knowing all in once that the universe, the cosmic dance, is not random but has inexplicable agency.
An invisible axe is spunning and cutting the tethers.
The way Parajanov filmed has been taken up by many, sure enough, Malick included. But we just haven't found more eloquent solutions to narrative, not in Malick, not in Lynch. I'm not just waxing. On top of everything else, the way causalities are overlain here is as intricate as I've seen in a film.
- Jul 21, 2012