The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from the Soviet Union, Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
“In the temple of cinema, there are images, light and reality. Sergei Parajanov was the master of that temple.” — Jean-Luc Godard
Shortly after Andrei Tarkovsky’s death and shortly before his own, Sergei Parajanov made Ashug-Karibi, dedicating it to Tarkovsky, who died self-exiled from Soviet Russia. It is based on a story by nineteenth-century poet Mikhail Lermontov, from his period of exile in the Caucasus. Lermontov had had problems with his tsar; Parajanov, with the Soviet state. Imprisoned for five years for homosexuality, Parajanov spent fifteen years in exile. Ashug-Karibi is about a poor minstrel who must wander for a thousand days and nights in order to make enough money to marry Magul, a rich merchant’s daughter. Its piercing wail of poignancy derives from its spiritual biography of Lermontov and Tarkovsky and its spiritual autobiography. It is a Byronic romance of exile deepened to the quick by the dream of going home.
Back home, Ashug-Karibi’s romantic rival offers stolen clothes as proof that Ashug-Karibi river-drowned. Magul weds herself to widow’s black; dressed in her own widow’s garb, Ashug-Karibi’s mother goes blind. (Believing her son dead, the light has gone out of her world.) Eventually, with a saintly sorcerer’s help, Ashug-Karibi travels back from “there” to “here” in one day, accompanied by the purse the sorcerer has given him, his faithful lute, and sufficient magic to restore his mother’s sight—the restoration of his own light and life.
This richly ornamented film, with its exquisite tableaux, includes Islamic folk art: frescoes, dances, songs, garments, prayers. Parajanov finds the past exiled from the present, and he aims to bring it home. Successive shots home in on the blue bell tower, moving us from architectural form to sculpted detail. Characters speak in Azeri, but the translating voiceover brings the Georgian film home.
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