REVIEW: DVD Release: Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors

Film: Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors
Release date: 10th May 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Sergei Paradjanov
Starring: Ivan Mikolajchuk, Larisa Kadochnikova, Tatyana Bestayeva, Spartak Bagashvili
Genre: Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: Russia

Based on the book Tini Zabutykh Predkiv (translates to Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors) by Ukrainian writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky, the acclaimed debut feature from eccentric Soviet-Armenian filmmaker Sergei Parajanov (released in 1964) finally receives a DVD release.

In a village of Carpathian Hutsuls (a group of Ukranian highlanders), Ivan (I. Dzyura) and Marichka’s (V. Glyanko) families are at war with each other, soon resulting in the death of Ivan’s father at the hands of Marichka’s. However, this does not stop the two from secretly beginning a childhood romance which will shape the rest of their lives and last forever.

In addition to the deaths that loom over them, their romance must face yet another obstacle when adult Ivan (Ivan Mikolajchuk) must leave the village to earn a living as a hired labourer, having pleaded with Marichka (Larisa Kadochnikova) to wait until winter for him, watching the stars each night to remind each of the other. Nevertheless, the fate of the lovers is sealed when one night, while climbing a cliff to watch the stars, Marichka plummets to her death in the river rapids below.

Ivan is overcome with grief, running away from everything to pursue a solitary life, which he leads for many months, until some nearby villagers coax him into getting drunk and beginning a loveless relationship with Palagna (Tatyana Bestayeva). However, he never truly loves Palagna, and the couple are constantly haunted by the spectre of his true love, Marichka…

There are certainly some unusual camera and editing techniques in Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors, not least for the time in which it was made. The colour red features prominently in the film, not only as the colour font used for the titles, but the entire picture often flashes red whenever there is a tragic occurrence in Ivan’s life, which sadly, for him, is frequent. Other striking techniques used are the frantic camera movements and rapid zooms, which signal death or a sense of foreboding. However, this does not necessarily come across accurately, often making the film look more like a low budget horror flick.

A soundtrack of Russian folk music and hymns scores the film, resulting in a sound which could certainly be considered an acquired taste, but, nevertheless, is entirely relevant, and works perfectly with the backdrop of the film. This landscape figures importantly, as the beautiful Carpathian Mountains serve as a looming entrapment for the characters during the first half of the film, as Marichka and Ivan know that they will never be together in their current environment, while after Marichka’s death, they are a constant reminder to Ivan of the loss that he has suffered. The doom laden quality of the mountains is punctuated by the constantly overcast sky which projects darkness on to the village, and taints the otherwise beautiful landscape. Even during moments when the sun appears, such as times when Ivan and Marichka are happy together, or as children frolicking in the woods, it is blindingly bright, creating a sense of intoxication.

Not only does the music and setting create an effective Carpathian atmosphere, but the costumes are also fantastic. Featuring vibrant colours and unusual patterns, each character genuinely looks as if they belong to this environment. Parajanov has succeeded in his creation of an environment which is incredibly important to the film, as a story about a group of people who have gone widely unrecognised. Surely a large portion of the general public will not be aware of who the Carpathian Hutsuls are, and there are very few stories, either on film or in literature, about them.

The film runs into trouble when some aspects of the acting are taken into consideration. The first character development in the film comes from the young Ivan and Marichka, painfully approached by poor child acting - it seems this cannot be avoided whether in Hollywood or world cinema. The building of their relationship, as the lovers age, is punctuated by, at times, overly melodramatic acting from Kadochnikova and Mikolajchuk - although this does contribute to a Shakespearean quality to the film, with ties to Romeo & Juliet (Marichka and Ivan the ‘star-crossed lovers’) and Macbeth (Palagna’s use of witchcraft). However, Mikolajchuk shines through when his character faces tragedy, delivering an emotive performance as a grief stricken loner.

Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors features beautiful cinematography and fantastic direction from Parajanov, but falls short in the performance department if you cannot see past the Shakespearean comparisons. HB

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