Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani (1985)

Sergei Parajanov

Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani Sergei Parajanov Armenia35mm > digital21 min1985

Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani is a documentary film about the great Georgian outsider artist Niko Pirosmani. By filming the detail and themes of his colourful paintings, Parajanov creates an engaging and mysterious portrait of Georgia itself. This later work is often seen as a companion piece to Hakob Hovnatanyan since it also takes its subject from a famous painter. – IFFR

In many ways an elaboration on the model of Hovnatanyan, Arabesques is a celebration of outsider painter Niko Pirosmani, in many ways Georgia’s national painter. The filmmaker shoots Pirosmani’s paintings to emphasize their tonal contrasts, in some cases heightening the drama so as to make Pirosmani come off as a sort of latter-day, Caucasian El Greco. He also goes further into recreating the world of the painter, shooting an impressively assembled collection of period-appropriate tchotchkes and knick-knacks with an alternately nostalgic and sardonic eye. Daniel Witkin

Arabesques on the Theme of Pirosmani was scanned by Gosfilmofond and restored by Fixafilm within the framework of The Hamo Bek-Nazarov Project. Ⓒ Georgian Film and Studio Mematiane. Financial support courtesy of Kino Klassika.


Streaming Details

This film is available to stream globally.

Program Partners

This film is co-presented with Georgian Film and Kino Klassika.

Image credits: all artworks, stills, and portraits courtesy of the artist © Estate Sergei Parajanov, and Georgian Film. Special thanks to Khatuna Khundadze, Giorgi Kharebava, and Daniel Bird.

about the artist

Sergei Parajanov (Armenia), affectionately known as the “magician of cinema” was a visual artist and filmmaker born in Tbilisi, Georgia in 1924. After briefly studying at the Institute for Railway Transport and the Conservatory of Music, he enrolled in the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) in Moscow, under the tutelage of Ukrainian director Alexander Dovzhenko. His studies were briefly interrupted after a wrongful conviction by the Soviet state security apparatus. His sentence was later commuted and he graduated from VGIK, completing the now lost film Moldavian Fairy Tale (1951). Between 1954 and 1962 he made eight films in the socialist realist style including, Ukrainian Rhapsody (1961) and Flower on the Stone (1962). Parajanov’s career culminated in the creation of brilliant cinematic productions replete with visual poetries and folk legend. Crediting Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Ivan’s Childhood (1962), he went on to develop a radically new method of filmmaking, completing the landmark films Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) and Sayat Nova (1969). He would later disown his films made before 1963, and paid a heavy price for his outspoken criticism of Soviet authorities. Soviet film studios rejected his projects after Sayat Nova, censoring and renaming the film as The Color of Pomegranates. In 1973 he was incarcerated for five years in a Ukrainian prison. During this exile, he created assemblages, collages, and drawings with renewed vigour. Following his release, exhibitions of this body of work were held throughout Armenia. Parajanov was widely celebrated during his lifetime, winning many awards at festivals in Venice, New York, Rotterdam, London, São Paulo, and Istanbul. He has been the subject of numerous retrospectives, including at The Museum of Modern Art, Harvard Film Archive, Mystetskyi Arsenal, Tbilisi History Museum, Odessa International Film Festival, and Arsenal Berlin. Cineteca di Bologna and The Film Foundation restored The Color of Pomegranates in 2014. The restoration premiered at the 67th Cannes Film Festival. Parajanov’s final film, The Confession, was never completed. It survives in the original negative as Parajanov: The Last Spring (1992), assembled by his friend and colleague Mikhail Vartanov. He died of cancer in Yerevan, Armenia in 1990. The Sergei Parajanov Museum opened one year after his death in 1991.