Boy, was I not expecting this. I’ve often started these reviews mentioning how my expectations heading into the film in question are little to none, but this one deserves a special caveat; never have my non-expectations thrown me for a loop as crazy as Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors threw me. The opening scene, which features the camera on a tree as it falls onto a man, followed by the camera spinning wildly into the snow-covered landscape as the surviving kid runs away, let me know straight off that I was in for something a little odd. It was just how odd the rest of the film would end up being that I apparently had trouble grasping.
So, the plot. Uh… Yeah. Gimme a minute here… Okay, so there’s something about a kid named Ivan, who grows up alongside a young girl named Marichka, and as adults they fall in love, and then she ends up drowning in a river while he’s away. He mourns for a while, before finding a new love in a woman named Palagna, but then Palagna ends up with some kind of sorcerer when Ivan appears still torn over Marichka, and so Ivan and the sorcerer have a sort of showdown, and so on and so forth. I won’t give the whole thing away, as tempting as that would be, but rest assured; the plot isn’t the reason to watch this one, since the plot isn’t the film’s real focus. What the film does focus on is an absolutely absurd amount of symbology, coupled with the film’s lush cinematography and production value (mostly in the costume department). I couldn’t begin to try and explain what half of the stuff in this film meant; it was just readily apparent that it meant SOMEthing. As for the cinematography, there were some pros and cons. For the cons, the budget for this film must have been either fairly low once production began, or was used entirely on the elaborate costumes, since the film didn’t look all that professionally done. For the pros, however, the look and feel of the film was very rich, in color and in imagery. In particular, the camerawork was especially adventurous and daring; even if some of the little experiments they do with it don’t end up working, I couldn’t help but admire the film’s aspirations to try something new. That said, the too frequent use of handheld camera shots, especially before the invention of the Steadicam, was something I could not ignore for the life of me. Also, right from the beginning I could tell all the sound had been done in post, thanks to poorly done overdubbing and foley work, so points off for that.
I honestly have no idea how to recommend this one. It was very nice to look at, for a multitude of reasons, but if you watch this film as anything but a collection of interesting and eclectic images, you will almost certainly come out the other end scratching your head. This was just weird, plain and simple. I was reminded somewhat of a strange cross-breed between the Czech film Daisies and Miklos Jancso’s Red Psalm, which, while making for a never-endingly interesting combination, did not make for an altogether coherent one. This was a nice window into a different world, with some inventive camerawork and a production value that was just over the line of excessive. But, and here’s the kicker, I could come up with no particular reason for someone to actually go out and track this down, which more than anything is why the rating is as low as it is. I found a quote from another review of this that I found absolutely spot on: “I don’t think I have ever been so taken with the technique of a film while simultaneously being so frustrated.” That was my experience with my first Sergei Parajanov film, and I have a sneaky feeling it will prove the same for any of his other works that I end up watching.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10