This is a wonderfully chaotic film, a beautiful collection of images, stories, characters, thoughts, dreams. Like stumbling across the notebook of an unknown genius in a language that you can’t read, but whose very form is enough to tell you all you need to know. In a way perhaps cinema at its purest is a return to the pictogram, sign and meaning unified to reveal all in the image of a frame. If this were really so, Parajanov is one of those few poets who offers hints of what a wonderful world it could be.
Legend of Suram Fortress is ‘about’ a fortress which has been destroyed and cannot be rebuilt. Until, the soothsayer, whose circuitous story we have already learnt, reveals what’s required and a valiant young warrior agrees to entomb himself in the castle walls. However, most of this emerges in the film’s final ten minutes. In the preceding seventy, we travel the length and breath of Georgia, meeting too many characters to keep count of. Pomegranates are abused, bagpipes are blown and camels wend their way towards the coast. In one dazzling scene, medieval warriors pace the waterfront with supertankers lurking in the sea behind them.
There must be a whole host of ways of interpreting The Legend, with subtexts relating to national myths; the filmmaker’s own relationship to the USSR; and who knows what else. These aspects for now pass me by. What remains is the declaration of a filmmaker who’s willing to challenge his audience into re-evaluating what the experience of watching cinema can be. Not the act of following the thread of a narrative, but leaping from star to star. As such he almost seems to be challenging the whole notion of the Western narrative tradition, which had been waiting for cinema to be invented and Parajanov to arrive and show that stories don’t need beginnings, middles and ends. They need visions.