Kyiv Frescoes (1966)

Sergei Parajanov

Kyiv Frescoes Sergei Parajanov Armenia 35mm > digital15 min1966

Ostensibly filmed to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the Great Patriotic War, what was supposed to become a feature-length film about the aftermath of WWII in contemporary Kyiv now only exists as a series of screen tests collaged together by Parajanov after the film was terminated by the Russian Goskino. These tests, however, clearly indicate a radical stylistic shift from his prior and widely celebrated Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965), in part due to Parajanov’s parting of ways from the Ukrainian cinematographer Yuri Ilyenko and his roving camerawork. – Oliver Dickens

There’s plenty of indication that the full-length Kyiv Frescoes would have been a major work, but even in its truncated form it retains some serious pleasures. While it’s tempting to view it as a dry run for The Color of Pomegranates (1969), its style is subtly but meaningfully distinct, using an eclectic sort of juxtaposition to playfully layer disparate elements of the Ukrainian capital’s history. The result is a decidedly more contemporary-feeling film than its successor (few, if any, films feel more wholly outside of time than Color of Pomegranates), with American and French pop tunes jostling with Red Army songs and Orthodox liturgy on Parajanov’s characteristically dense soundtrack. While the state would have had any number of reasons to shut down the film, its rather overt sense of sexuality seems like a particularly likely one. While socialist realism’s celebration of the vigorous proletarian body made for no small amount of tacit eroticism (homoeroticism in particular), Parajanov contributes an element of outright sensuality that makes it unmistakable. – Daniel Witkin

Kyiv Frescoes was scanned and restored by Fixafilm within the framework of The Hamo Bek-Nazarov Project. Ⓒ National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre.

Streaming Details

This film is available to stream globally.

Program Partners

This film is co-presented with the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre and Fixafilm.

Image credits: all artworks, stills, and portraits courtesy of the artist © Estate Sergei Parajanov, and the National Oleksandr Dovzhenko Film Centre. Special thanks to Oleksandr Prokopenko 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.