Hallucinatory. Brutal. Avant Garde. Beautiful. Hypnotic. Lyrical. Primitive. Poetic. Timeless. Modern. Visionary. Blinding.
These are just a few of the adjectives that spring to mind when trying to describe Russian filmmaker Sergei Paradjanov's 1964 film "Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors".
A portrait of both the harsh realities and ecstatic, magical sensibilities of 19th century life among the tribal people who live in the Carpathian mountains of his native Georgia, the movie was a shocking sensation when it came out, and eventually put this unique director in dutch with the Russian authorities of the old Soviet Union for what they considered a negative portrayal of their country and a filmmaking style that could be considered the antithesis of social realism
Harassed for the rest of his career and finally thrown into a work prison in the gulag, it is hard not to read Paradjanov's own life as mirroring the cruel, unvarnished, capricious experiences of his characters in "Forgotten Ancestors".
But it is also hard for me to think of a movie in which the harmony between the theme - which one might call the lack of any distinction between the beautiful and the brutal in nature - and the style in which that theme is expressed is more complete.
The camera and the cameraman seem to often be untethered from any earthly constraints of gravity and vestibular motion, and the saturated colors, radical in-camera effects, and mainly the almost continual, haunting musical score of native songs and performed melodies are as overwhelming as the events in the life of the tribesman Ivan that being chronicled by the screaming red chapter headings in bold hand-drawn Cyrillic type.
Sometimes you see a film and imagine how other filmmakers may have treated the same subject or story, but sometimes you see something so unique and definitive that you can't imagine any other version being possible. Paradjanov's masterpiece is one of those movies.