After spending 10 years making documentaries and Soviet-safe films (all of which he later disowned), Sergei Parajanov broke loose with a vengeance by making Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964). The film — essentially a highly stylized story, almost a legend — completely eschewed any vestige of “socialist realism” (the only style of filmmaking the government approved) and plunged headlong into an earthy, sometimes experimental tale of love and customs in the Carpathian Mountains of the Ukraine around the end of the 1800s. The story is simple enough. As a child, Ivan (I. Dzyura) falls in love with Marichka (V. Glyanko), whose father killed Ivan’s father. When they grow up, Ivan (Ivan Mikolajchuk) and Marichka (Larisa Kadochnikova) are still in love, but kept apart. While Ivan is away, Marichka drowns trying to save a black sheep. Plunged into despair, Ivan withdraws into himself until he become attracted to and marries Palagna (Tatyana Bestayeva), but this relationship is ultimately doomed and, following a fight, Ivan dies with Marichka mystically coming to “claim” him. That’s it. But stylistically the film is jaw-dropping — somewhere between the French New Wave and an acid trip. (There’s one scene lit by flashes of lightning that only wants “In a Gadda daVida” on the soundtrack to turn into a trippy late ‘60s American artifact.) Some of the things Parajanov does with the camera work, some don’t. All are startling. The authorities were not amused by any of it and kept him from making films as much as possible — they didn’t like his style, his politics or his bisexuality — and even put him in prison a few times. Of course, he’s since come to be regarded as one of Russia’s greatest filmmakers.
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