Review: ‘I Died in Childhood. . .’

Although there have been a wealth of documentaries made about the genius Sergei Paradjanov, filmmaker, painter and actor from the Soviet republic of Georgia, "I Died in Childhood... " is one of the most frank in recounting the director's years in prison and their influence on his work. Docu will be of interest to film buffs, particularly for its long excerpts from "Confessions," the film Paradjanov was working on before his death in 1990.

Although there have been a wealth of documentaries (38 by one count) made about the eccentric genius Sergei Paradjanov, filmmaker, painter and actor from the Soviet republic of Georgia, “I Died in Childhood… ” is one of the most frank in recounting the director’s long years in prison and their influence on his work. Docu will be of great interest to film buffs, particularly for its long excerpts from “Confessions,” the film Paradjanov was working on before his death in 1990. With its sensitive mix of images and local music, this agreeable pic is earmarked for fests and DVD release.

Directed by Sergei’s nephew Georgy Paradjanov, “I Died” speaks in the familiar, respectful tone of someone talking about a revered ancestor. Title comes from the director’s own diaries, from which the film quotes extensively. Rather than attempting a full biopic, pic tries to capture the spirit of the man through snatches of his films and glimpses of his marvelous drawings and collages. All of them show a unique talent for visualizing thought.

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1924, Paradjanov was deeply influenced by the city’s traditions and superstitions. Cemeteries had a morbid fascination for him, and, when the city bulldozed an ancient cemetery to make way for a park, he believed the ghosts of his ancestors moved into his family home.

Brief excerpts from all his major films — including “Shadows of Our Forgotten Ancestors,” “The Color of Pomegranates,” “The Legend of Suram Fortress,” and “Ashik-Kerib” — illustrate his deep feeling for local history and his ability to bring it alive through lush, sensual imagery.

The opening scene of “Confessions,” the only scene completed, is an extraordinary account of a young girl’s funeral, with relatives trying to carry the coffin down the narrow steps of a house in old Tbilisi while a photographer exhibits a full-length portrait of the deceased that he has made by retouching a postmortem photo.

Though it offers long, bitter reflections on the horrors of prison life, pic is not so frank in explaining how the director ended up there or why he served such a long sentence. Actually he was imprisoned three separate times on trumped-up charges, ranging from illegally trading art objects and exchanging foreign currency to homosexuality and incitement to suicide.

But the film truthfully states that the real reason behind his persecution was the Soviet authorities’ desire to silence an artist working completely outside the system. In the end, he spent 10 years in different gulags, where he continued to paint intensely and make heart-wrenching collages.

Helmer Georgy Paradjanov (“Djado,” “I Am a Seagull”) shows real artistry in using a camera that seems to be constantly in motion. Svetlana Stepchenko plays traditional music with feeling.

I Died in Childhood. . .

Russia

Production

A Paradjanof Film Studio production. Produced by Maria Sementsova, Grigory Podzemelny. Directed, written by Georgy Paradjanov.

Crew

Camera (color), Nodar Paliashvili, Sergei Savich; editor, Victor Goltsman; music, Svetlana Stepchenko; sound (Dolby Digital), Roland Kazaryan. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (non-competing), May 21, 2004. Running time: 51 MIN.

With

Russian dialogue
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