Ashik Kerib (1988)
Directed by Sergei Parajanov
March 18 at the IFC Center, part of its Queer/Art/Film series.
Sergei Parajanov made four mature features and spent 11 years in a Soviet prison camp. Walking through the Yerevan museum that was once his home is a lot like watching, say, The Color of Pomegranates: there are the pomegranates, collaged; the colorful wealth of Caucasian costumes; the birds. But the arrangement is off—whereas in the films each shot is a tableaux vivant, a reconstructed page of the medieval manuscripts he loved, the displays of his collages, paintings, and dolls are clustered, lacking of the director’s beautiful geometry. And, in the back, there are the works he made in prison: sepia sketches of emaciated men behind asterisks of barbed wire. In the musical folklore of Ashik Kerib, there’s that iron-tasting tinge, too.
The story itself is simple—a poor minstrel goes adventuring abroad to earn enough to marry his love, daughter of a rich Turkish merchant. It’s an old tale from the Caucauses, recorded by the Russian writer Lermontov—on his version, ostensibly, the film is based—and turned by the Georgian-born Armenian Parajanov into something more than a catalog of Azeri traditions. It’s not quite ethnographic and not entirely whimsical; a near-constant sountrack trades the lute-like saz for something so upbeat it’s not even jarring when a warlord’s harem is suddenly waving miniature kalashnikovs. Then a choir; a vision of St. George; the black camel of grief. Parajanov was never heavy-handed, but refused to mystify intentionally, just like he shrugged off the mandatory socialist realism of the USSR. What he created instead are enchantments.
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