by Mansel Stimpson
The name of Don Askarian is new to me. A Russian filmmaker, he emigrated
in 1978 and settled in West Berlin. His feature Komitas (uncertificated:
96 minutes) is something he worked on for four years between 1985 and
1988. He is credited with script and direction but also not
inappropriately, he has an additional credit for picture and sound
Aesthetically the film's starting point is twofold: the life of the
Armenian monk and composer Komitas (1369-1935} and an event which he
witnessed, the genocide of two million Armenians in 1915 at the hands of
the Turks (a slaughter still not acknowledged in Turkey).
But Askarian's picture is far removed from normal story-telling. It's
minimal dialogue and posed scenes recall the cinema of Paradjanov, as does
the division of the film into titled sections. The presence of animals and
books also underline the debt while the emphasis on rain reminds us of
Tarkovsky's use of water.
It is, however, Paradjanov's The Colour of Pomegranates, which is most
strongly brought to mind, since this too is a film concerned with a
culture. But it must be stressed that it is no copy. Where Pomegranates
was as full of perfectly composed images as an art gallery, Askarian moves
his camera as readily as Jancso, if less formally. To make a comparison
with painting, this is like a detailed exploration of a series of frescos.
This visual emphasis should not, however, detract from an awareness of the
skilled use of sound, be it footsteps or incidental music including folk
material and the compositions of Komitas himself.
This is, of course, specialized filmmaking. Much of Komitas is obscure and
the stylized, meditative approach is one, which abjures all conventional
drama. Even the slaughter is indirectly represented as bodies float down a
stream. But those who respond to Paradjanov, Tarkovsky and, indeed, to
Straub, may find the film rewarding. It is both uncompromising and
That last phrase is also one, which could be applied to the work of The
Quay Brothers, so it is good programming to accompany Komitas with two of
their shorts. Rehearsals For Extinct Anatomies lasts 14 minutes and Stille
Nacht a mere eighty seconds. But both inhabit a world, which will be
recognised by those who saw Street of Crocodiles.
For myself I have to say that I find their work pretentious as well as
obscure, but I cannot deny the presence of art. not least when it comes
to the vital role played by music in their films and their association
with the composer Leszek Jankowski.
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