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Customer Review

on 15 April 2010
From Armenian/Georgian filmmaker and artist Paradjanov comes this last magnificent film based on a fable by Mikhail Lermontov. Ashik Kerib is a stunning succession of rich and elaborate tableau vivant, still lifes and dramatically choreographed set pieces framed in vast landscapes and all accompanied by traditional music of the region. The extraordinary ethnic costumes and artefacts that fill every frame of the film are compelling in their vibrant colour, texture and sheer unfamiliarity. Also, Paradjanov incorporates the distinctive local architecture into his scenes and these structures, many of which appear abandoned, seem to litter the unpopulated landscapes and become stages on which the actions of the film take place.

To watch any of the four main films in the Paradjanov oeuvre is akin to being set down in a strange, complex and entirely unfamiliar land without a guide book or a word of the language. Nevertheless, I do not believe it is necessary to comprehend all of the cultural references to appreciate the film. In fact, whether or not you succumb to the ecstatic and arcane beauty of the images and sounds, or to the moments of pantomime humour, very much depends on your approach to art and your adherence or not, to mainstream narrative film making. This is not a film that constructs a conventional narrative: that is why I have not even mentioned the story so far!

To decode the films structure, and thereby cast light on the narrative, it is necessary to consider Eisenstein's theory of montage - not a theory of editing as such - but a theory of cinematic space, as opposed to theatrical space. Each shot exists in its own right expressing a part of the whole but without the tyranny of continuity in either time, space or design. Spatial and temporal continuity is the determining factor in the shooting methodology that is the convention of mainstream film making - as in the Hollywood model, but this methodology is absent in Paradjanov's film. Therefore, do not be alarmed by the sudden shifts in setting or the jump cuts, he is simply advancing the action without recourse to the conventional deception of a close-up or cutaway. Elsewhere in the film cuts have an explicit meaning such as where one object jump cuts to another implying a consequence or meaning by association. The film as a whole functions in this way; it is by means of the viewer acquiring and accumulating a succession of associations that meaning is revealed, rather than through linear disclosure. Ironically, the film has a strong narrative spine that becomes clearer, amid the various visual diversions, with each repeated viewing.

OK, it is about a minstrel who when rejected by his lovers father is compelled to wonder the world for 1001 days and thence we see all that befalls him until he is returned safely to his homeland and to her.
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