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Jul 26, 2021Nursebob rated this title 2.5 out of 5 stars
Notable for the fact it was one of the first Ukrainian language films to fly under the radar of Soviet censorship, Sergei Parajanov’s Carpathian fairytale has garnered awards and rave reviews wherever it has played. Puzzling, since all I saw was a slapdash arthouse mess of sloppy editing, tinny sound, and lifeless performances. Set in a remote 19th century mountain village, the story follows the tragic life of a handsome young peasant named Ivan whose sad adventure begins when his father is killed in a brawl. Desperate for love, the grown Ivan is given two chances at happiness only to have them snatched away—once by nature (God?) and once by the Devil. Using this bare bones narrative, Parajanov fleshes out his movie with so much local pageantry that the already thin plot gets waylaid in favour of a prolonged dance sequence or yet another poorly focused pan of colourful peasants trudging through snow-choked forests. Interesting in that it delves into the culture of the Ukraine’s ethnic Hutsul people—the elaborate woollen costumes are authentic; both a marriage and a funeral ceremony are shown in detail; and a soundtrack of clanging bells, whistling flutes, and Orthodox choirs seems almost organic—but the primitive production standards and apparent lack of qualified film editors make it look as if it was shot on the fly and then later dubbed in an echo chamber. Spinning cameras evoke more nausea than interest and a cacophony of mumbling voiceovers—an attempt at a Greek Chorus perhaps?—makes it sound as if you’re watching two different movies simultaneously. A confusing hodgepodge of cheap cinematic tricks and Soviet travelogue which one critic succinctly diagnosed as “terminal artsiness”.