Graham Williamson’s review published on Letterboxd:
Part of 30 Countries 2017. Today: Armenia!
So what is it?
I don't know.
That's a bit of a cop-out. You watched it.
I know, but there's this quality about it that defies description. And I know I write criticism, so I shouldn't say that. But have you seen this thing?
Well, yes, I'm your brain. Let's take things step by step. Have you seen any other films by this director?
Yes - the first time I did 30 Countries, I saw Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, which is also by Sergei Parajanov.
What did you think of it?
I found it bewildering and beguiling. I found this even more bewildering and even more beguiling.
But why? It's only a biopic, isn't it?
Well, yes, but there hasn't been a biopic like this before or since. It uses the framework of moving through the central character's life to dramatise the imagery and ideas in his poetry, as well as explore the world he lived in. Its imagery is pre-cinematic, flat tableaus that reminded me of Giotto or Byzantine frescos more than it does anything that's been put into a camera. It has astonishing large-scale fantasy sequences that aren't contextualised as fantasies. Did the poet Sayat Nova really nail books to the roof of his school? It seems unlikely, and you're meant to view it as unlikely. It's also presented as being completely real to him.
So it's a biopic of the imagination, like I'm Not There.
I love I'm Not There, but this makes I'm Not There look like A Beautiful Mind.
Did it remind you of any other film?
Not a film, but - you remember that Tony Kaye Dunlop advert? There was always a rumour that he'd done a full four-minute version of that, one which lasted for the whole of the Velvet Underground song it uses, but it got cut down. I'd always wanted to see that, and now I feel like I've got a full feature film of it.
That sounds strange. Does it work?
You'll have to watch it to find out.
I'm your brain. I watched it with you.
I'm not sure you were there at all.