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London

by Wally Hammond

How can you recommend a film with chapter headings like 'Lamentation. Mourning and Woe? And further, one, which attempts to tell the tale of a great Armenian musician-composer who spent his last 20 years in mental institutions, silently traumatised by the 1915 genocide of two million of his people? Don Askarian's film beggars description: suffice to say it has the mind-opening intensity of Tarkovsky's spiritual odysseys, the visual beauty of Paradjanov's celebrations of ethnic cultures, and an almost surreal, miraculous poetry that is Askarian's own. There is no plot as such: in a series of eight or so sections, he attempts to find a visual, cinematic correlative for the suffering and madness or Soghomon Soghomonian ('Komitas'), and to suggest the equally damaged condition of Armenia and its culture. The images have the internal visionary logic of the mad­dened imagination: faded paintings on a ruined church wall crumble in the rain to reveal jugs foaming with colour: jam-jars are smashed, their contents left to bleed down: strange music echoes from rain drumming on a graveyard of musical instruments: a woman breast-feeds a Iamb: Komitas lies on a bed of flames. The pace is leisurely, and the camera moves gently or not at all: time - too much, perhaps - is given to medi­tate on what is shown. At one point, Komitas says art is worthless, that only nature and light matter. But this film, which plays with two new animated shorts by the Quay Brothers (see listings for details), affirms that art matters, too.

Time out
18. 04. 1990