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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors


By Richard von Busack

Soviet-Armenian director Sergei Paradjanov's 1964 masterpiece of life in the Carpathian Mountains, "forgotten by God and people," tells the story, somewhere in the past, of the peasant Ivan (Ivan Mikolajchuk), who loses the love of his life, wanders in exile and participates in celebrations and lamentations. Eventually, Ivan marries a bright-eyed, faithless villager (Tatiana Bestayeva) who cannot lure him back from the ghostly appeal of the woman he lost. The Georgian filmmaker's extraordinary sensuality combines the dreaminess of Vigo with the feeling for the natural world of Herzog. Yet this director was alone in innovation and Jungian power. Fawns and lambs, horses and fires, eggs and apples, storms and streams—all are contemplated with a morning-of-creation awe. Some of the ideas here turn up in the modern cinema: the mysterious log barge coursing down a river in the fog as its crew looks for a dead woman is all over Apocalypse Now; a tree bursting into flames to symbolize orgasm can be seen in Pleasantville. Kino's print of this much-mutilated film is very good, if not visually restored, and includes scenes that didn't make it onto earlier video issues. The coming attractions include the good news that Paradjanov's The Legend of the Suram Fortress is also being reissued by Kino. A slideshow of the director's fine art is beautiful as it is enlightening; less so is the underwhelming 2002 documentary Islands, comparing the career of Paradjanov with that of his great friend Andrei Tarkovsky (Solaris, Andrei Rublev). Out-of-context film clips try to illustrate both artists' sufferings at the hands of Soviet censors and judges. In Paradjanov's case, they knew who they were after—Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is perhaps the least Soviet movie ever made in the U.S.S.R. (Richard von Busack)

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