Sergei PARAJANOV © M. Vartanov

There are numerous stories and memories about Parajanov. He could have left a greater heritage to the coming generations if there hadn’t been bans on his films and his imprisonment. Parajanov was always surrounded by the artists interested in his art and character but very few people had the privilege to penetrate into his world. Ethnographer Levon Abrahamyan was shot in Parajanov’s film “The Color of Pomegranates” due to his beard. He played the role of a young priest. From the very first moment of the acquaintance Levon Abrahamyan hasn’t missed a chance to enjoy Parajanov’s company. Moreover, he has been there for the master during some episodes of his life.  Levon Abrahamyan has recollections about Parajanov’s films that were not document200-199x300shot. He is telling about a day spent with Parajanov.  

Our cinema could have had a critical film on war but it didn’t.

“Today it is called a trailer. Previously a director had to shot a short film and to present it to the authorities. If approved the film had the right to be shot. Parajanov wanted to shoot a film about The Great Patriotic War. His script presented the real heroes of the war. For example, there was a character of a general having numerous medals. In Parajanov’s film the general was weighed with his medals. Another hero, a war veteran who has lost his leg, was driving on the Victory Square of Kiev in a Soviet machine intended for people with disabilities. And during the whole film a worker could be seen in the film with a water pipe (in the cross form) on his shoulder. He tries to enter the subway with the pipe but he is not allowed. Some of these scenes have been included in his other films but the entire film idea didn’t come to life after all.”

SN-neg-05-300x219The Oscar that Sofiko Chiaureli didn’t win

Shushanik is Vardan Mamikonyan’s daughter who is declared a saint both by Armenians and Georgians. She is the only Armenian who is the most beloved and cherished saint of the Georgian people. The book “Shushanik’s Sufferings” written in the medieval period initiated the Georgian fiction. Parajanov had written a film script about saint Shushanik. It was a very interesting script specially written for Sofiko Chiaureli. Though Sofiko played all her roles wonderfully in all the films but she was a clever woman and understood that role of Shushanik would bring her an Oscar. However “Shushanik’s Sufferings” became Parajanov’s next film that wasn’t shot. The film script wasn’t approved during the filmmakers’ meeting in Tbilisi. Sofiko came up with an impressive speech in support of the film. She has always backed up Parajanov, she was his muse. The rumours went that Soficolost her positions a little in Georgian cinema because of that speech. During the filmmakers’ meeting it was made clear that a film about Shushanik could only be shot by a Georgian filmmaker. Parajanov was so offended that he immediately gave his consent when it was decided to establish his museum in Yerevan. In fact the ban to shoot the film and Parajanov’s offence played an important role to establish Parajanov’s museum in Yerevan.”


A Letter to Brezhnev

“There were many films by Parajanov that were not allowed to be shot, otherwise they would become masterpieces: these were the film scripts written in jail. In 1974 Parajanov was put into detention. In 1978 he was released and visited Moscow for two days. Now I am telling you things that happened in a day. I met him. On seeing me he said: “You have become more cinematographic.” And I replied: “I am ready to play in any film shot by you.” “I cannot shoot that films. I cannot make films al all anymore. After all the things that I have experienced I am not able to make films,” he said. And indeed he didn’t shoot that films. We paid a visit to Rudolf Khachatryan’s studio. The reason of Parajanov’s visit to Moscow was surprising. He had come to hand over a letter of gratitude to Brezhnev who had released him from prison. Louis Aragon had turned to Brezhnev in relation to this issue. Aragon’s wife had asked her husband for it and she herself had been asked by her sister Lilya Brik. Although many people had struggled to free Parajanovno one had succeeded. Louis Aragon, who was a famous communist, had visited Moscow to receive a medal from Brezhnev. He didn’t want to go Moscow but he did after all as he had been urged by his wife and her sister. And the medal awarding was an opportunity for Aragon to request Brezhnev to set Parajanov free. As Parajanov had been released from jail due to Brezhnev he had decided to thank him. His Georgian friends also came to Rudolf Khachatryan’s studio. We accompanied Parajanov to hand over the letter. He entered the reception and didn’t come back for a long time. We thought he might have been arrested again. We knew what was written in the letter. He had expressed gratitude and had also asked permission to leave for Iran, as he loved the Persian art.”

The prison scripts in prison

In Rudolf Khachatryan’s studio we carefully listened to his prison stories and scripts and clearly imagined that films. But he didn’t shoot them eventually. He said that he had given that film scripts to Tonino Goure for him to shoot them as he wished. But Tonino had told him: “Only you can shoot these films, as the events seem to take place on the moon. I cannot understand them.” Though Tonino Goure had lived in Nazi camps and had a good insight what Parajanov wanted, he refused to shoot them because of the horrible things written in the scripts.”

Parajanov’s film without Parajanov

“And one of that films was shot: “Swan Lake: The Zone” by Yuri Ilyenko. Parajanov has given him the screenplay. At that time they had come to terms. They often argued and then reconciled. Ilyenko often declared that he had been shooting Parajanov’s films and he was the genuine author of that films. In short he shot the film “Swan Lake: The Zone”. I have watched the film and got disappointed. Ilyenko shot the film the way it was written in the script. But Parajanov didn’t imagine that film in that way. I knew how he wanted it to be as I had heard each footage told by him.”

Masterpieces the cinema failed to have

Parajanov’s situation had become a little better in jail. One of the famous thief inmates started to support him after Parajanov had obtained a hat for him. The hat had been send to him by his friends. The hat was large and the thief was thin, so the hat covered his eyes. I imagine the way Parajanov would film that thief’s love. His teeth were spoiled that is why he was taken to the dentist. The dentist was a woman and they fall in love with each other at the first sight. She was looking forward for her lover’s release. The thief asked postcards with rose pictures on it from Parajanov. Parajanov’s friends sent them to him and the latter handed them over to the thief. The dentist attached the cards on the wall of the house they were going to live. And the woman sent a bunch of her hair in the response letters. And the thief filled his pillow with the hair bunches. He had shown the pillow to Parajanov. I imagine what a film that love story could make if it were shot by Parajanov. And finally the day of release of the thief came. He leaves the prison with the large hat on his head. The other inmates together with Parajanov saw from the window the woman coming in an ambulance. The thief raised the hat covering his nose, kissed the woman. Then they drove away.

There is a different story about another thief who had lived a very difficult life. Parajanov once asked him what had impressed him most in his life, and his reply was very interesting, similar to Parajanov’s style. He told the following: “It was the years of war. I was young then. I was hungry. The train was passing through Siberia. Suddenly I noticed a big suitcase on train. I supposed that it was full of food and decided to steal it. I stole it and tossed it out of the window. I tried to remember where I threw the case then I threw myself out of the train that could cost me my life. I reached the case covered with snow and rolling down. And right there I saw the beauty: the entire cranberry of the suitcase had scattered on the white snow. Here is the most impressive story of my life.”

Parajanov’s film was going to present such stories but they were not included in the screenplay, he hadn’t written them. Ilyenko had shot the script very accurately but the film wasn’t touching. If I hadn’t heard these stories from Parajanov I might have liked Ilyenko’s film, but Parajanov had told all these in Rudolf Khachatryan’s studio and we had a different vision about his film.

I remember another story. Parajanov was jailed with dangerous criminals in a special zone. There was an inmate there with the nickname Tsirkul,who had lost one of his legs. Tsirkul was a murderer, he had set one of the cinemas in Ukraine on fire which caused the death of many people. On the eve of Easter the inmates painted the dome of the small local church. Parajanov and Tsirkul also painted. The women of the village threw dyed eggs into the barbed wires to express their gratitude. Such beautiful footage could only be shot by Parajanov, if he had shot them.

Parajanov worked only two days on his last film in the film making area. His health dramatically worsened and one of his lungs was removed. Parajanov didn’t shoot films anymore but the footage shot in that two day are among his priceless works.
















Prepared by Naira Paytyan

The photos have been provided by Parajanov Museum.