Sergei Parajanov

Sergei Parajanov

Infobox actor
name = Sergei Parajanov

caption = Sergei Parajanov and Lilya Brik, a sister of Aragon's wife Elsa Triolet.
birthname =
birthdate = birth date|1924|1|9
birthplace = Tiflis (now Tbilisi), USSR
deathdate = Dda|1990|07|20|1924|1|9
deathplace = Yerevan, USSR
restingplace = Pantheon Cemetery, Yerevan, Armenia
restingplacecoordinates =
othername =
occupation = Director, screenwriter, art director, production designer
yearsactive = 1951-1990
spouse = Nigyar Kerimova (1950-1951)
Svetlana Tscherbatiuk (1956-1962)
partner =
children = Suren Parajanov
parents =
influences = Andrei Tarkovsky, Pier Paolo Pasolini
influenced = Kira Muratova
website =
awards = Sitges - Catalonian International Film Festival, Caixa de Catalunya
1986 "The Legend of Suram Fortress"
São Paulo International Film Festival, Critics Award
1987 "The Legend of Suram Fortress"
Rotterdam International Film Festival, Rotterdam Award
1987 "The Legend of Suram Fortress"
European Film Award (Nominated)
1988 "Ashik Kerib"
Istanbul International Film Festival, Special Prize of the Jury
1989 "Ashik Kerib"
Nika Awards, Nika
1990 "Ashik Kerib" [cite web |url=|title=Awards for Sergei Parajanov|publisher=IMDB]

Sergei Parajanov ( _hy. Սարգիս Հովսեփի Փարաջանյան "Sargis Hovsepi Parajanyan"; Georgian: სერგეი (სერგო) ფარაჯანოვი; _ru. Сергей Иосифович Параджанов "Sergej Iosifovich Paradzhanov"; also spelled Paradzhanov or Paradjanov) (January 9, 1924July 20 1990) was a Soviet-Armenian film director. He invented his own unparalleled cinematic style having taken inspiration from early works of Andrei Tarkovsky and Pier Paolo Pasolini. His oeuvre is extremely poetic, artistic and visionary and is acclaimed worldwide. But as it was highly unfit with principal rules of socialist realism (the only sanctioned art style in USSR) and his controversial stance and escapades to boot, cinema authorities regularly denied him permission to make films.

Although he started professional film-making in 1954, he later disowned all of his pre-1964 works as "garbage". After directing "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" (renamed "Wild Horses of Fire" for most foreign distributions) Parajanov had become something of an international celebrity and simultaneously a target for Soviet oppression system. Nearly all of his film projects and plans from 1965-1973 got banned, scrapped or closed by film administration, both local (in Kiev and Yerevan) and federal (infamous Goskino), almost without discussion until he was finally arrested in late 1973 on trumped-up charges of rape, homosexuality and bribery. He was imprisoned until 1977, despite plethora of pleas for pardon from various esteemed artists.

Even after release (he was yet to be arrested for the third and last time in 1982) he was persona non grata in Soviet cinema. It was not until mid-80's, when political climate started to supple, that he could resume directing. Still, it required help of influential Georgian actor David (Dodo) Abashidze and other friends to have his last feature films green-lighted.

His health seriously weakened by 4 years in labor camps and 9 months in Tbilisi prison, Parajanov died of lung cancer in 1990, at the time when, after almost 20 years of suppression, his films were finally again allowed to be featured in foreign film festivals.

Early life and films

He was born to artistically-gifted Armenian parents Iosif Paradjanov and Siranush Bejanova, in Tbilisi, Georgia. His childhood was filled with beauty and was blessed with having access to art from early age. In 1945, Parajanov traveled to Moscow, enrolled in the directing department at VGIK, one of the oldest and highly respected film schools of Europe, and studied under the tutelage of directors Igor Savchenko and Aleksandr Dovzhenko.

In 1950 Parajanov married his first wife, Nigyar Kerimova in Moscow. She came from a Muslim Tatar family and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to marry Parajanov, to terrible consequences: she was later murdered by her relatives in retaliation for her conversion. As a result of this tragic event Parajanov left Russia for Kiev, Ukraine. There he produced several documentaries ("Dumka", "Golden Hands", "Natalia Uzhvy") and a handful of narrative films based on Ukrainian and Moldovan folktales, such as "Andriesh", "Ukrainian Rhapsody", and "Flower on the Stone". He learned and became fluent in Ukrainian, remarried (Svetlana Ivanovna Sherbatiuk in 1956). She gave him a son (Suren, 1958).

Break from Soviet Realism

Tarkovsky's first film "Ivan's Childhood" had an enormous impact on Parajanov's self-discovery as a filmmaker of genius (later the influence became mutual, they were also close friends). In 1964 he abandoned socialist realism and directed the poetic "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors", his first film in which he had complete creative control and which won numerous international awards. Despite the numerous awards it received and its frequent comparison with Sergei Eisenstein's "The Battleship Potemkin", Parajanov's"Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" did not conform to the strict standards of the Soviet board of censors. Unwilling to alter his film, Parajanov was quickly blacklisted. The film became famous worldwide because Parajanov authentically recreated a forgotten world (the story takes place in the wilderness of the Ukrainian Carpathians, which might seem completely alien for ordinary Western audiences). Also, his use of colors, costumes, music and camerawork was essential in both telling a story visually and inspiring the viewer's awe.

Parajanov departed Kiev shortly afterwards for his motherland of Armenia. In 1968, he embarked on "Sayat Nova", a film which many consider to be his crowning achievement, though it was shot under relatively poor conditions and had a very small budget. [ Sergei Parajanov - interview ] ] Soviet censors intervened once again and immediately banned "Sayat Nova" for its allegedly inflammatory content. Parajanov re-edited his footage and renamed the film, "The Color of Pomegranates". It remains his best-known and most emblematic film. There have been few films where soul and high art blend together like in "Color of Pomegranates". Few films have had such sublime magic. Parajanov gave the world a rare film which represents a cinematic insight into the artistic mind. It best justifies critic Alexei Korotyukov's remark: "Paradjanov made films not about how things are, but how they would have been had he been God."

Imprisonment and Later Work

By December 1973, Soviet authorities grew increasingly suspicious of Parajanov's perceived subversive proclivities (particularly 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.""] Three days before he was sentenced, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine, asserting -”In the last ten years Sergei Paradjanov has made only two films: Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors and The Colour of Pomegranates. They have influenced cinema first in the Ukraine, second in this country as a whole, and third - in the world at large? Artistically, there are few people in the entire world who could replace Paradjanov. He is guilty - guilty in his solitude. We are guilty of not thinking of him daily and of failing to discover the significance of a master.”

An eclectic group of artists, filmmakers and activists protested on behalf of Parajanov, but to little avail (among them, Yves Saint Laurent, Françoise Sagan, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Mikhail Vartanov). Parajanov served four years out of his five year sentence, and later credited his early release to the efforts of the French Surrealist poet and novelist Louis Aragon, the Russian poet Elsa Triolet (Aragon's wife), and the American writer John Updike. His early release was officiated by Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, presumably as a consequence of the General Secretary's chance meeting with Aragon and Triolet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. When asked by the Secretary if he could be of any assistance, Aragon requested the release of Parajanov, which was effected by December of 1977.

While incarcerated Parajanov produced a large number of miniature doll-like sculptures (some of which were lost) and some 800 drawings and collages, many of which were later displayed in Yerevan, where the Parajanov Museum is now permanently located. [ [ Frieze Magazine | Archive | Paradjanov the Magnificent ] ] The museum opened in 1991, a year after Parajanov’s death, and hosts more than 200 works as well as furnishings from his home in Tbilisi. His efforts int he camp were repeatedly compromised by prison guards, who deprived him of materials and called him mad, their cruelty only subsiding after a statement from Moscow admitted "the Director is very talented."

Upon his return from prison to Tbilisi, the close watch of Soviet censors prevented Parajanov from continuing his cinematic pursuits and steered him towards artistic outlets which he had nurtured during his time in prison. He crafted extraordinarily intricate collages, created a large collection of abstract drawings and pursued numerous other avenues of non-cinematic art, sewing more dolls and some whimsical suits.

In February of 1982 Parajanov was once again imprisoned, on charges of bribery, which happened to coincide with his return to Moscow for the premiere of a play commemorating Vladimir Vysotsky at the Taganka Theatre, and were affected with some degree of trickery. Despite another stiff sentence, he was freed in less than a year with his health seriously weakened. By 1984, the slow thaw within the Soviet Union spurred Parajanov to resume his passion for cinema. With the encouragement of various Georgian intellectuals, he created the multi-award winning "Legend of Suram Fortress" based on the novella by Daniel Chonkadze, his first return to cinema since "Sayat Nova" first premiered fifteen years earlier. In 1988 Parajanov made another multi-award winning film, "Ashik Kerib", based on a story by Mikhail Lermontov. It is the story of a wandering minstrel set in the Azeri culture. Parajanov dedicated the film to his close friend Andrei Tarkovsky and "to all the children from the world".

Parajanov then immersed himself in a project that ultimately proved too monumental to withstand his failing health. He died of cancer in Yerevan, Armenia, on July 20 1990, aged 66, leaving his final masterpiece, "The Confession" unfinished. It survives in its original negative as "Paradjanov: The Last Spring", assembled by his close friend Mikhail Vartanov in 1992.He left behind a book of memoirs, also titled "The Confession".

Such luminaries as Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi, Alberto Moravia, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni and Bernardo Bertolucci were among those who publicly mourned his passing.In a telegram that came to Russia: "The world of cinema has lost a magician".

Influences and his influence

Despite having studied film at prestigious VGIK, he discovered his cinematic genius only after seeing Andrei Tarkovsky's dreamlike first film "Ivan's Childhood". Almost all great filmmakers have a limited audience. Parajanov had many admirers of his art but, like in case of Orson Welles (another unique and very different artist) his unique own vision did not attract many followers. "Whoever tries to imitate me is lost", he reportedly said once. However there are directors like Theo Angelopoulos and Bela Tarr who share Parajanov's approach to film as a visual medium opposed to a narrative tool like literature.

References in popular culture

Parajanov's life story provides (quite loosely) the basis for the 2006 novel Stet by the American author James Chapman.



Produced and partially produced screenplays

*"Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors" ("Тіні забутих предків", 1964, co-written with Ivan Chendei, based on the novelette by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky)
*"Kiev Frescoes" ("Киевские фрески", 1965)
*"Sayat Nova" ("Саят-Нова", 1968, production screenplay of "The Color of Pomegranates")
*"The Confession" ("Исповедь", 1969-1989)
*"Studies about Vrubel" ("Этюды о Врубеле", 1989, depiction of Mikhail Vrubel's Kiev period, co-written and directed by Leonid Osyka)
*"Swan Lake: The Zone" ("Лебединое озеро. Зона", 1989, filmed in 1990, directed by Yuri Ilyenko, cinematographer of "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors")

Unproduced screenplays and projects

*"The Dormant Palace" ("Дремлющий дворец", 1969, based on Pushkin's poem "The Fountain of Bakhchisaray")
*"Intermezzo" (1972, based on Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky's short story)
*"Icarus" ("Икар", 1972)
*"The Golden Edge" ("Золотой обрез", 1972)
*"Ara the Beautiful" ("Ара Прекрасный", 1972, based on the poem by 20th century Armenian poet Nairi Zaryan about Ara the Beautiful)
*"Demon" ("Демон", 1972, based on Lermontov's eponymous poem)
*"The Miracle of Odense" ("Чудо в Оденсе", 1973, loosely based on the life and works of Hans Christian Andersen)
*"David of Sasun" ("Давид Сасунский", mid-1980's, based on Armenian epic poem "David of Sasun")
*"The Martyrdom of Shushanik" ("Мученичество Шушаник", 1987, based on Georgian chronicle by Iakob Tsurtaveli)
*"The Treasures of Mount Ararat" ("Сокровища у горы Арарат")Among his projects, there also were plans for adapting Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha", Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Goethe's "Faust", the Old East Slavic poem "The Tale of Igor's Campaign", but film scripts for these were never completed.


"Direction is about truth. It's about God, love and tragedy"

"Tarkovsky, who was younger than I by ten years, was my teacher and mentor. He was the first in "Ivan's Childhood" to use images of dreams and memories to present allegory and metaphor. Tarkovsky helped people decipher the poetic metaphor. By studying Tarkovsky and playing different variations on him, I became stronger myself... I did not know how to do anything and I would not have done anything if there had not been "Ivan's Childhood."

"He is like a god to me, a god of the aesthetic, master of style, one who created the pathology of an epoch." (on Pasolini)

"His incredible gift for fantasy is astonishing. But it only goes in one direction -- towards mystification. He possesses a headstrong passion to make his characters larger than life." (on Fellini)

"Only good can overwhelm the evil"

"Beauty will save the world"

"La vie est une fenêtre"


ee also

*Art film
*Cinema of Armenia
*Cinema of Georgia

External links

* [ Official Site (]
* [ Parajanov at The Internet Movie Database]
* Exhibition of collages and projection of films from the 04/20/07 to the 05/20/07 at the [ Musée d'art moderne de Saint-Etienne]
* [ The Parajanov Case, March 1982]
* [ Sergei Parajanov's 75th birthday]
* [ Interview with Ron Holloway]
* [ Film about Parajanov Museum in Yerevan]
* [ Actress Sofiko Chiaureli and many others about him]
* [ Arts: Armenian Rhapsody]
* [ Excerpted from “Paradjanov’s Films on Soviet Folklore” by Jonathan Rosenbaum]
* [ For those who want to know more about Parajanov]
* [ Sayat Nova music, Yerevan, May 2007] Traditional ensemble performing Armenian Music

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