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Uncompromising
by Mansel Stimpson

KOMITAS (ICA)
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 composition.
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 uncompromised.
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.

What’s on in London
18. 04.1990