Sergei Parajanov (1924–1990) was born to Armenian parents in Georgia, a country that is bounded by the Black Sea, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. At 21, Parajanov enrolled in the directing department at Moscow’s VGIK, one of the oldest film schools in Europe.
In the Soviet Union of the 1940s, art schools taught a social realist style, and his early films have that style. But many years later, Andrei Tarkovsky’s dreamlike first film Ivan’s Childhood (1962) made a marked impression on Parajanov, and his first non-social realist film was the poetic Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), the first film over which he had complete creative control. His most famous and critically acclaimed film is the expressive Color of Pomegranates (1968), released when he was 44.
At 24, Parajanov was convicted of homosexual acts (which were illegal at the time in the Soviet Union), but was released after three months. By his late forties, Soviet authorities had grown increasingly suspicious of Parajanov’s perceived subversiveness, particularly his bisexuality, and sentenced him to five years in a hard labor camp in Siberia for “a rape of a Communist Party member, and the propagation of pornography.” A group of artists, filmmakers, and activists protested on behalf of Parajanov, among them Yves Saint Laurent, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Andrei Tarkovsky. He was released four years later in December 1977.
Parajanov emphasizes the visual, non-linear qualities of film rather than its narrative techniques. In Color of Pomegranates, the story of a poet’s life is told through a series of set pieces, rather than dialogue. His work has been lauded by many directors, including Fellini, Bertolucci, Godard, Coppola, and others.
Film stills from Color of Pomegranates
An appreciation in The Guardian: