Parajanov Triptych

Three short films by Sergei Parajanov, Hakob Hovnatanyan (1967), Kyiv Frescoes (1966) and Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani (1986). Scanned and restored from the original camera negatives in 4K by Fixafilm. Produced in association with National Cinema Centre of Armenia (NCCA), Dovzhenko Centre and Georgian Film. Scans for Hakob Hovnatanyan and Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani financed by Kino Klassika.

Curator: Daniel Bird
Restoration Producer: Lukasz Ceranka
Consultant: James Steffen

A program of newly restored short films by Parajanov—Hakob Hovantanyan (1967), Kiev Frescoes (1966), and Arabesques on the Pirosmani Theme (1985)—and the results were revelatory, helping to fill in the gaps of our understanding of his artistic development between Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) and Pomegranates. Hakob Hovantanyan is something of a warmup for Pomegranates, an associative and evocative study of the paintings of the titular 19th-century artist, while his move toward the cinematic fresco is encapsulated by Kiev Frescoes, cobbled together from footage intended for a feature-length work about post-WWII Kiev before the Soviet authorities ordered most of it destroyed. The Arabesques further develop Parajanov’s interest in the relationship between cinema and painting in the form of an intricately sequenced montage of details from the paintings of the Georgian outsider artist Niko Pirosmani. The art-historical function of this shorts program and exhibition within the context of a festival the scale of Rotterdam was immense, not so much providing a reprieve from weak premieres and uneven shorts programs as helpfully reminding us that it has never been easy to create work of enduring significance, that art has always entailed struggle and will continue to do so until further notice.

‘Rotterdam 2019 Dispatch’ Film Comment
Dan Sullivan
February 20, 2019

Sergei Parajanov’s wordless 10-minute film Hakob Hovnatanyan from 1967, a visual and thematic precursor to his rhapsodic masterpiece The Colour of Pomegranates. The Georgian-born Armenian director shot it after completing the script and screen tests for Pomegranates, but before principal photography began […] These iconic symbols trace a complex pattern of myths and memories: an assertion of national identity that the government might well have found subtly, or not so subtly, subversive. But as with The Colour of Pomegranates, there is something akin to iconography and religious observance that Parajanov has alchemised into a secular mystery of art.

‘Hakob Hovnatanyan’ The Guardian
Peter Bradshaw
December 3, 2018

In his ten-minute short film of 1967, Hakob Hovnatanyan, filmmaker Sergei Parajanov uses portraiture to paint a portrait of the eponymous Armenian portraitist, Hakob Hovnatanyan. If it is hard to catch the meaning of the previous sentence on a first reading, it is perhaps proof of how easily Parajanov’s film slips from our grasp. Hovnatanyan is multi-layered – portraiture, portrait, portraitist – but for years has been buried in an Armenian archive under physical layers of dirt and damage. Daniel Bird in association with the National Cinema Centre of Armenia, Fixafilm Poland and Kino Klassika Foundation, has finally excavated this minor treasure of Soviet cinema, and international audiences have taken notice. Having already been screened at film festivals worldwide, a restored print of Parajanov’s short was screened last Friday at, appropriately, the National Portrait Gallery in London. Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw, who introduced the film, called it, “a film which rewards re-viewing,” “occluded,” “an artefact.” Watching Hovnatanyan in its previous condition felt like being on an archeological dig without one’s brushes – watching this restoration was like returning the next day and finding that someone had brushed away the dust […] Where Parajanov’s cinematic power ultimately lies, is in his ability to imbue the inanimate with the filmic potential of the living. Parajanov’s “portrait” should be perfectly at home in a museum, but it isn’t. In the basement Ondaatje Wing Theatre of the National Portrait Gallery, it became startlingly clear that Parajanov’s portrait, however “painterly,” is decidedly cinematic. Hovnatanyan’s rare combination of stillness and dynamism, of light and dark, is one that perhaps only cinema can capture. Sunlight pours in through the gaps in the newly restored Hovnatanyan – it shines through flowers on a window-sill, floods the streets of Tbilisi, illuminates cracks in aging paint. After all that excavation work, perhaps Hakob Hovnatanyan isn’t an artefact at all – it seems somehow much too alive, too present. The film has been screened as part of a triptych with restored prints of Kiev Frescoes and the later Arabesques on a Pirosmani Theme at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and in tandem with Paweł Pawlikowski’s Cold War at last year’s Telluride Film Festival. Pawlikowski’s film is perhaps the perfect example of the importance of Parajanov’s ethos in a modern context. Even in the Ondaatje Wing Theatre, the multiculturalism of Parajanov’s aesthetic was echoed by the mixture of Russian and British chatter in the cosmopolitan audience. In a world increasingly fraught by tensions between East and West, we need more filmmakers that traverse the boundaries of nationalist cinemas on an international stage.

‘Sergei Parajanov creates a portrait of the eponymous
Armenian portraitist’ Russian Art+Culture
Madeline Pullman-Jones
March 27, 2019