Some films are successful because they come to exemplify a genre, and some films are successful because they prove a point, or encapsulate everything that everyone thought the film-maker wanted to say at that time in their life. Some films are successful because they seem to define the times that they existed in, and some are successful because they come to represent the birth of something new and exciting. The Color of Pomegranates is not an example of any of these; it is a film that stands uniquely in the world of cinema. It is to the side of everything else that has ever been made, not above nor below. It is outside of cinema and exists as something else entirely.
It’s a biopic, in the loosest of all possible senses of the word, of the Armenian poet Sayat Nova, that attempts to understand his life through poetical images and iconic scenes, rather than dialogue and straight-forward direction. It imagines that this figure of poetic myth must have, in his life, experienced magical and mysterious things, for him to have composed the poems and songs that he did. The film tries to show us these events and how they formed the man that came to be.
It’s hard to explain the film. There’s a structure, sure – it follows the birth, life, and death of Sayat Nova. It follows him through school, through living in a monastery, to his eventual death. The scenes are disjointed but in a strangely satisfying way, and they seem to be assembled in a microscopically organised mess of images, ideas, and iconographical representations.
The images through the film are incredibly striking. Each scene is a beautiful painting that could be taken on its own, as a frame, and hung in an art gallery. Be it weavers doing their work on looms while Nova wanders among them, holding the thread; or a man digging a grave among slabs while hooded monks measure fabric alongside, and a cloud hovers above; or the recurring images of a semi-covered face, coloured lace partially revealing what lies beneath.
Some of the film is scary, but only because it seems to make absolutely no sense. It’s jarring but in a beautifully choreographed way. It’s hard to know who the intended audience would be, outside of installation aficionados and admirers of Sayat Nova. Cinephiles used to more straight-forward works might balk at this slim, beautiful piece, but it’s a worthwhile journey into something new.