This blog is part of the courses on film, art, literature, and media
given by Dr.
Hudson Moura, Toronto, Canada.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Fish Out of Water: The Suffering and Survival of Armenia

Critical Report by Janoosha Kugananthan

On March 24, 2017, Iranian film critic Dr. Shahram Tabe came to Ryerson University to discuss two films that were being screened during the Screening Memory Film Series. The two films that were screened that day were Girl from Moush (Gariné Torossian, 1993) and The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Paradjanov, 1969). This report will discuss how the two films were used to show the suffering of Armenian culture after the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

Before screening the two films, Dr. Tabe gave some background information on Armenia and the two films. Girl from Moush is about the director trying to find her identity as an Armenian who lives in a different country. The Color of Pomegranates is supposed to represent the life of Sayat Nova, an Armenian poet, and musician who was born in Georgia. Nova’s life is shown through various tableaus and symbolism related to Armenia. The film starts off with Nova as a child and progresses to show him as a young man who is in love with the Georgian king’s sister. Afterward, Nova gets married, and his wife dies, so he becomes a faithful priest. In the end, Nova is shown going with angels to his death and is presented as a martyr. In reality, Dr. Tabe mentioned before the film was screened that Iranians killed Nova because of his resistance to Iran’s invasion of Armenia. He became the national symbol of Armenia for martyrdom after this. Dr. Tabe also told the audience that the director of this film, Sergei Paradjanov, paid close attention to the mise-en-scene and that the audience might not understand the film without knowing Armenian history.  

After the film had been screened, one member of the audience talked about how the film had a lot of symbolism, which he did not know so he could not understand the film. Dr. Tabe then went into a scene-by-scene analysis of the symbols in the film and what each symbol meant. For example, he talked about how the whole film was about suffering, which is shown in the first three scenes where the pomegranates are bleeding, and the fish are dying. This represented how Armenia and its culture are struggling to survive while other people try to destroy it. In the film, Nova is learning how to read from a priest, who tells him to teach others how to read. Dr. Tabe compares this to the apple in the Garden of Eve. Knowing how to read and the apple both represent knowledge and power, and there is the responsibility that comes with that knowledge. He also mentions that Armenia is strongly tied to Christianity. Another audience member asked if the director was influenced by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, to which Dr. Tabe replied maybe. I disagree with this because there was only one scene that was similar to Macbeth, which was the scene where Nova holds up a skull. Other than this scene, the film was different because I felt that Nova’s life and death represented the attempted murder of a cultural group, not about the hero’s suffering and death as in Macbeth. Dr. Tabe ended off by saying that Sergei Paradjanov was the biggest filmmaker in Armenia.

Although Dr. Tabe stated that the scenes that were repeated in this film were a beautiful cinematic point, I disagree with him. In my opinion, the repeated scenes in the film interrupted the flow of the storyline. Since I did not understand most of the symbolism in this film, the repeated scenes decreased my understanding of the events in this film. Also, Dr. Tabe only discussed The Color of Pomegranates during the discussion, but he should have also considered Girl from Moush. While the latter film was a short film, I did not understand what it was supposed to be about and discussing that film afterward would have given me more information. On the other hand, I am glad that he explained Nova’s life story before screening The Color of Pomegranates because it helped me understand what some of the symbols in the film were supposed to represent. I am also glad that he went over the scenes in the film after it was screened; this allowed me to comprehend the film and better appreciate it.

The main theme of the two films that were screened was culture and identity. Through the use of symbolism and Nova’s life story, the director of The Color of Pomegranates was able to show the suffering and identity of the Armenian people. This film was beautifully shot and, Dr. Tabe’s analysis made me realize what this film was truly about and allowed me to appreciate the art. In Girl from Moush, we were able to see how culture can shape a person’s identity, even if they are no longer in that country. Through the use of film and the moderator’s analysis, we were able to see how Armenian culture suffered and survived after other countries tried to destroy them.

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