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Sergei Paradjanov's stylized tribute to Armenian poet and folk hero Sayat Nova proceeds in the manner of a grave, arcane rite, as if the flattened figures of some ancient pre-Renaissance fresco had miraculously been brought to life. For its oblique and somewhat abstract evocation of “reactionary” nationalist and religious sentiment, the film was banned in Russia, and its director was subsequently sentenced to six years of hard labor in a prison camp. Maybe the authorities had a point: the film is reactionary, though more in an aesthetic than a political sense. The antiquated tableau styling, frozen and evocative, harks back to Melies, though with the kind of backward-turning fertility that opens out and animates rather than embalms. It's a strange, visionary work, highly formal and not easy of access, but compelling in a way that's almost impossible to describe (1969). In Armenian with subtitles.

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