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Sergei Parajanov
Սարգիս Փարաջանյան
Born January 9, 1924(1924-01-09)
Tiflis (now Tbilisi), USSR
Died July 20, 1990 (aged 66)
Yerevan, USSR
Occupation Director, screenwriter, art director, production designer
Years active 1951-1990
Spouse(s) Nigyar Kerimova (1950-1951)
Svetlana Tscherbatiuk (1956-1962)
Official website

Sergei Parajanov (Armenian: Սարգիս Հովսեփի Փարաջանյան, Sargis Hovsepi Parajanyan; Georgian: სერგეი (სერგო) ფარაჯანოვი; Ukrainian: Сергій Йосипович Параджанов, Serhiy Yosypovych Paradzhanov; Russian: Сергей Иосифович Параджанов, Sergey Iosifovich Paradzhanov; also spelled Paradzhanov or Paradjanov) (January 9, 1924 — July 20, 1990) was a Soviet Armenian film director and artist, widely regarded as one of the 20th century's greatest masters of cinema[1].

He invented his own unparalleled cinematic style. His oeuvre is extremely poetic, artistic and visionary and is acclaimed worldwide. But as it was highly unfit with the principal rules of socialist realism (the only sanctioned art style in the USSR) and his controversial stance and escapades to boot, cinema authorities regularly denied him permission to make films.

Although he started professional film-making in 1954, Parajanov later disowned all of his pre-1964 works as "garbage". After directing Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (renamed Wild Horses of Fire for most foreign distributions) Parajanov had become something of an international celebrity and simultaneously a target of attacks from the system. Nearly all of his film projects and plans from 1965-1973 got banned, scrapped or closed by the Soviet film administration, both local (in Kiev and Yerevan) and federal (infamous Goskino), almost without discussion until he was finally arrested in late 1973 on trumped-up charges of rape, homosexuality and bribery. Parajanov was imprisoned until 1977, despite a plethora of pleas for pardon from various esteemed artists.

Even after his release (he was yet to be arrested for the third and last time in 1982) he was a persona non grata in Soviet cinema. It was not until the mid-1980's, when the political climate started to supple, that he could resume directing. Still, it required the help of influential Georgian actor Dodo Abashidze and other friends to have his last feature films green-lighted.

His health seriously weakened by four years in labor camps and nine months in a Tbilisi prison, Parajanov died of lung cancer in 1990, at the time when, after almost 20 years of suppression, his films were finally again allowed to be featured in foreign film festivals.


Early life and films

Parajanov was born to artistically-gifted Armenian parents Iosif Paradjanov and Siranush Bejanova, in Tbilisi, Georgia. His childhood was blessed with having access to art from an early age. In 1945, Parajanov traveled to Moscow, enrolled in the directing department at the VGIK, one of the oldest and highly respected film schools of Europe, and studied under the tutelage of directors Igor Savchenko and Aleksandr Dovzhenko.

In 1948 he was convicted of homosexual acts (which were illegal at the time in the Soviet Union) with a KGB officer named Nikolai Mikava in Tbilisi. He was sentenced to five years in prison, but was amnestied after being incarcerated for three months.[2]

In 1950 Parajanov married his first wife, Nigyar Kerimova in Moscow. She came from a Muslim Tatar family and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to marry Parajanov, to terrible consequences: she was later murdered by her relatives in retaliation for her conversion. As a result of this tragic event Parajanov left Russia for Kiev, Ukraine. There he produced a few documentaries (Dumka, Golden Hands, Natalia Uzhvy) and a handful of narrative films: Andriesh (based on the fairy tale by Moldovan writer Emilian Bukov), The Top Guy (a collective farm musical), Ukrainian Rhapsody (a wartime melodrama), and Flower on the Stone (about a religious cult infiltrating a mining town in the Donets Basin). He learned and became fluent in Ukrainian and remarried (with Svitlana Ivanivna Shcherbatiuk) in 1956. Shcherbatiuk gave him a son (Suren, 1958).

Break from Soviet Realism

Tarkovsky's first film Ivan's Childhood had an enormous impact on Parajanov's self-discovery as a filmmaker of genius (later the influence became mutual, they were also close friends). In 1964 he abandoned socialist realism and directed the poetic Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, his first film in which he had complete creative control and which won numerous international awards. Unlike the subsequent The Color of Pomegranates, it was relatively well-received by the Soviet authorities. The Script Editorial Board at Goskino of Ukraine praised the film for “conveying the poetic quality and philosophical depth of M. Kotsiubynsky’s tale through the language of cinema” and called it “a brilliant creative success of the Dovzhenko studio.”

Moscow also agreed to Goskino of Ukraine's request to release the film with its original Ukrainian soundtrack intact rather than re-dub the dialogue into Russian for Soviet-wide release, in order to preserve its uniquely Ukrainian flavor.[3] (Russian dubbing was standard practice at that time for non-Russian Soviet films when they were distributed outside the republic of origin.) The film became famous worldwide because Parajanov authentically recreated a forgotten world (the story takes place in the wilderness of the Ukrainian Carpathians, which might seem completely alien for ordinary Western audiences). Also, his use of colors, costumes, music and camerawork was essential in both telling a story visually and inspiring the viewer's awe.

Parajanov departed Kiev shortly afterwards for his motherland of Armenia. In 1968, he embarked on Sayat Nova, a film which many consider to be his crowning achievement, though it was shot under relatively poor conditions and had a very small budget.[4] Soviet censors intervened once again and immediately banned Sayat Nova for its allegedly inflammatory content. Parajanov re-edited his footage and renamed the film, The Color of Pomegranates. It remains his best-known and most emblematic film. There are few films where soul and high art blend together with such sublime magic as in The Color of Pomegranates. Parajanov gave the world a rare film representing a cinematic insight into the artistic mind, justifying critic Alexei Korotyukov's remark: "Paradjanov made films not about how things are, but how they would have been had he been God."

Imprisonment and Later Work

Parajanov's memorial in Komitas Pantheon

By December 1973, Soviet authorities grew increasingly suspicious of Parajanov's perceived subversive proclivities (particularly bisexuality) and sentenced him to five years in a hard labor camp in Siberia for "a rape of a Communist Party member, and the propagation of pornography."[5] Three days before he was sentenced, Andrei Tarkovsky wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine, asserting -”In the last ten years Sergei Paradjanov has made only two films: Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors and The Colour of Pomegranates. They have influenced cinema first in the Ukraine, second in this country as a whole, and third - in the world at large? Artistically, there are few people in the entire world who could replace Paradjanov. He is guilty - guilty of his solitude. We are guilty of not thinking of him daily and of failing to discover the significance of a master.”

An eclectic group of artists, filmmakers and activists protested on behalf of Parajanov, but to little avail (among them, Yves Saint Laurent, Françoise Sagan, Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Luis Buñuel, Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Mikhail Vartanov). Parajanov served four years out of his five year sentence, and later credited his early release to the efforts of the French Surrealist poet and novelist Louis Aragon, the Russian poet Elsa Triolet (Aragon's wife), and the American writer John Updike[4]. His early release was officiated by Leonid Brezhnev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, presumably as a consequence of the General Secretary's chance meeting with Aragon and Triolet at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow. When asked by the Secretary if he could be of any assistance, Aragon requested the release of Parajanov, which was effected by December of 1977.[5]

While incarcerated Parajanov produced a large number of miniature doll-like sculptures (some of which were lost) and some 800 drawings and collages, many of which were later displayed in Yerevan, where the Parajanov Museum is now permanently located.[6] The museum opened in 1991, a year after Parajanov’s death, and hosts more than 200 works as well as furnishings from his home in Tbilisi. His efforts in the camp were repeatedly compromised by prison guards, who deprived him of materials and called him mad, their cruelty only subsiding after a statement from Moscow admitted "the Director is very talented."[4]

Upon his return from prison to Tbilisi, the close watch of Soviet censors prevented Parajanov from continuing his cinematic pursuits and steered him towards artistic outlets which he had nurtured during his time in prison. He crafted extraordinarily intricate collages, created a large collection of abstract drawings and pursued numerous other avenues of non-cinematic art, sewing more dolls and some whimsical suits.

In February 1982 Parajanov was once again imprisoned, on charges of bribery, which happened to coincide with his return to Moscow for the premiere of a play commemorating Vladimir Vysotsky at the Taganka Theatre, and were affected with some degree of trickery. Despite another stiff sentence, he was freed in less than a year with his health seriously weakened.[5] By 1984, the slow thaw within the Soviet Union spurred Parajanov to resume his passion for cinema. With the encouragement of various Georgian intellectuals, he created the multi-award winning Legend of Suram Fortress based on the novella by Daniel Chonkadze, his first return to cinema since Sayat Nova first premiered fifteen years earlier. In 1988 Parajanov made another multi-award winning film, Ashik Kerib, based on a story by Mikhail Lermontov. It is the story of a wandering minstrel set in the Azeri culture. Parajanov dedicated the film to his close friend Andrei Tarkovsky and "to all the children from the world".

Parajanov then immersed himself in a project that ultimately proved too monumental to withstand his failing health. He died of cancer in Yerevan, Armenia, on July 20, 1990, aged 66, leaving his final masterpiece, The Confession unfinished. It survives in its original negative as Parajanov: The Last Spring, assembled by his close friend Mikhail Vartanov in 1992. He left behind a book of memoirs, also titled "The Confession".

Such luminaries as Federico Fellini, Tonino Guerra, Francesco Rosi, Alberto Moravia, Giulietta Masina, Marcello Mastroianni and Bernardo Bertolucci were among those who publicly mourned his passing. In a telegram that came to Russia: "The world of cinema has lost a magician".

Influences and his influence

Despite having studied film at prestigious VGIK, he discovered his cinematic genius only after seeing Andrei Tarkovsky's dreamlike first film Ivan's Childhood. Parajanov had many admirers of his art but, like in case of Orson Welles (another unique and very different artist) his unique own vision did not attract many followers. "Whoever tries to imitate me is lost", he reportedly said once. However there are directors like Theo Angelopoulos, Bela Tarr and Mohsen Makhmalbaf who share Parajanov's approach to film as a visual medium opposed to a narrative tool like literature.

References in popular culture

Parajanov's life story provides (quite loosely) the basis for the 2006 novel Stet by the American author James Chapman.


Year English title Original title Romanization Notes
1951 Moldavian Tale (Russian) Молдавская сказка Moldavskaya Skazka Graduate short film. Lost.
1954 Andriesh (Russian) Андриеш Andriesh Co-directed with Yakov Bazelyan. Feature-length remake of Moldavian Tale.
1958 Dumka (Russian) Думка Dumka Documentary.
1958 The First Lad (aka The Top Guy) (Russian) Первый парень Pervyj paren
1959 Natalya Ushvij (Russian) Наталия Ужвий Natalia Uzhvij Documentary.
1960 Golden Hands (Russian) Золотые руки Zolotye ruki Documentary.
1961 Ukrainian Rhapsody (Russian) Украинская рапсодия Ukrainskaya rapsodiya
1962 Flower on the Stone (Russian) Цветок на камне Tsvetok na kamne
1964 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Ukrainian) Тіні забутих предків Tini zabutykh predkiv
1965 Kiev Frescoes (Russian) Киевские фрески Kievskie Freski Banned during pre-production. 15 minutes of auditions survive.
1967 Hakop Hovnatanian (Armenian) Հակոբ Հովնաթանյան Hakob Hovnatanyan Documentary. Short.
1968 The Color of Pomegranates (aka Sayat Nova) (Armenian) Սայաթ-Նովա Sayat Nova
1968 Children to Komitas (Armenian) Երեխաներ Կոմիտասին Yerekhaner Komitasin Documentary for UNICEF. Lost (?).
1984 The Legend of Suram Fortress (Georgian) ამბავი სურამის ციხისა Ambavi Suramis tsikhisa
1985 Arabesques On The Pirosmani Theme (Russian) Арабески на тему Пиросмани Arabeski na temu Pirosmani Documentary. Short.
1988 Ashik Kerib (Georgian) აშიკი ქერიბი Ashiki Keribi
1989-1990 The Confession (Armenian) Խոստովանանք Khostovanank Unfinished; original negative survives in Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992)


Produced and partially produced screenplays

  • Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Тіні забутих предків, 1964, co-written with Ivan Chendei, based on the novelette by Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky)
  • Kiev Frescoes (Киевские фрески, 1965)
  • Sayat Nova (Саят-Нова, 1968, production screenplay of The Color of Pomegranates)
  • The Confession (Исповедь, 1969-1989)
  • Studies about Vrubel (Этюды о Врубеле, 1989, depiction of Mikhail Vrubel's Kiev period, co-written and directed by Leonid Osyka)
  • Swan Lake: The Zone (Лебединое озеро. Зона, 1989, filmed in 1990, directed by Yuri Ilyenko, cinematographer of Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors)

Unproduced screenplays and projects

  • The Dormant Palace (Дремлющий дворец, 1969, based on Pushkin's poem The Fountain of Bakhchisaray)
  • Intermezzo (1972, based on Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky's short story)
  • Icarus (Икар, 1972)
  • The Golden Edge (Золотой обрез, 1972)
  • Ara the Beautiful (Ара Прекрасный, 1972, based on the poem by 20th century Armenian poet Nairi Zaryan about Ara the Beautiful)
  • Demon (Демон, 1972, based on Lermontov's eponymous poem)
  • The Miracle of Odense (Чудо в Оденсе, 1973, loosely based on the life and works of Hans Christian Andersen)
  • David of Sasun (Давид Сасунский, mid-1980s, based on Armenian epic poem David of Sasun)
  • The Martyrdom of Shushanik (Мученичество Шушаник, 1987, based on Georgian chronicle by Iakob Tsurtaveli)
  • The Treasures of Mount Ararat (Сокровища у горы Арарат)

Among his projects, there also were plans for adapting Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Goethe's Faust, the Old East Slavic poem The Tale of Igor's Campaign, but film scripts for these were never completed.


"Direction is about truth. It's about God, love and tragedy"

"Tarkovsky, who was younger than I by ten years, was my teacher and mentor. He was the first in Ivan's Childhood to use images of dreams and memories to present allegory and metaphor. Tarkovsky helped people decipher the poetic metaphor. By studying Tarkovsky and playing different variations on him, I became stronger myself... I did not know how to do anything and I would not have done anything if there had not been Ivan's Childhood."

"He is like a god to me, a god of the aesthetic, master of style, one who created the pathology of an epoch." (on Pasolini)

"His incredible gift for fantasy is astonishing. But it only goes in one direction -- towards mystification. He possesses a headstrong passion to make his characters larger than life." (on Fellini)

"Only good can overwhelm the evil"

"Beauty will save the world"

"La vie est une fenêtre"


  1. ^ Sergei Parajanov, Biography at IMDB
  2. ^ Вся правда о судимостях Сергея Параджанова
  3. ^ RGALI (Russian State Archive of Art and Literature), Goskino production and censorship files: f. 2944, op. 4, d. 280.
  4. ^ a b c Sergei Parajanov - Interview with Ron Holloway, 1988
  5. ^ a b c Осужден за изнасилование члена КПСС (in Russian), Moskovskiy Komsomolets, 2004
  6. ^ Frieze Magazine, Paradjanov the Magnificent

See also

External links

Simple English

Sergei Parajanov (Armenian: Սարգիս Հովսեփի Փարաջանյան Sargis Hovsepi Parajanyan; Russian: Сергей Иосифович Параджанов Sergej Iosifovich Paradzhanov; also spelled Paradzhanov or Paradjanov), (January 9, 1924 - July 20 1990), is considered by many to be one of the most original and critically-acclaimed filmmakers of the 20th century. His work reflected the ethnic diversity of the Caucasus where he was raised.

He was born to Armenian parents Iosif Paradjanyan and Siranush Bejanyan, in Tbilisi, Georgia. In 1945, Parajanov traveled to Moscow, enrolled in the directing department at VGIK, one of the oldest and highly respected film schools of Europe, and studied under the tutelage of directors Igor Savchenko and Aleksandr Dovzhenko.

In 1950 Parajanov married his first wife, Nigyar Kerimova in Moscow. She came from a Muslim Tatar family and converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity to marry Parajanov, to terrible consequences: she was later murdered by her relatives in retaliation for her conversion. As a result of this tragic event Parajanov moved to Kiev. There he produced several documentaries (Dumka, Golden Hands, Natalia Uzhvy) and a handful of narrative films based on Ukrainian and Moldovan folktales, such as Andriesh, Ukrainian Rhapsody, and Flower on the Stone. He became fluent in Ukrainian, remarried (Svetlana Ivanovna Sherbatiuk in 1956) and had a son (Suren, 1958).


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