“In the temple of cinema there are images, light, and reality. Sergei Parajanov was the master of that temple,” said Jean-Luc Godard, a pioneer of French New Wave and a maître of arthouse cinema. The religious metaphor suits the Armenian director perfectly: deep spirituality is a key aspect of his films. Best known for his arthouse masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates (1969), an otherworldly lyrical homage to Armenian poet Sayat-Nova, Parajanov left behind a rich legacy of dazzling experimental films. His non-linear poetic style was and to this day remains groundbreaking — but it came from a deep knowledge and appreciation of artists of the past.
The short films Kyiv Frescoes (1966), Hakob Hovnatanyan (1967), and Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani (1986) are three lesser-known Parajanov works. Recently restored as part of Hamo Bek-Nazarov project, these shorts —ranging from 10 to 21 minutes in length — are frequently shown jointly as the “Parajanov Triptych”. Together, they can be seen as an ode to painting and the artists who influenced Parajanov.
Kyiv Frescoes is, in fact, a series of screen tests for an unreleased feature-length film on the Second World War focusing on contemporary Kyiv. Parajanov intended to set this loosely-structured metaphorical film on the day of the city’s liberation from Nazi troops — but wanted to centre it around a museum, praising beauty and art rather than heroism and patriotism. The production of the film was terminated by the state studio, who deemed Parajanov’s experiments inappropriate for the subject.
Hakob Hovnatanyan and Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani delve deeper into the relationship between fine art and film, through focusing on the works of Armenian painter Hakob Hovantanyan (1806-1881) and Georgian artist Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918) respectively. In both of these magically meditative films, Parajanov zooms in and out of the paintings, creating intricate and colourful, rhythmic patterns from their details. In Hakob Hovnatanyan, the director only turns away from the portraits and miniatures in order to shoot a few scenes in Tbilisi, where Hovnatanyan was born and lived for most of his life. Twice as long, Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani features Parajanov’s bold, breathtaking cinematic recreations of Pirosmani’s paintings.
The sublime films of the Parajanov triptych are a radiant tribute to the power of art to create beauty and escape the banality of everyday life. As the filmmaker’s wife, Svetlana Parajanov said of him: “He knew only too well what the monotonous grey routine meant. I think that his mission on Earth was turning everyday life into a continuous celebration.” And so he did in his films, this triptych serving as a bright example.
Watch for free on the Media City Film Festival website. The films are streaming globally till 1 March.