Why start at the bottom? Sergei Parajanov opens his cosmos of folk images already in the color sequences of Ivan the Terrible, Part 2 and keeps accelerating. The Carpathian Mountains ("forgotten by God and people") set the swirling stage, Hutzul tribes greet each other with "Glory to Jesus!" yet the splendor is the kind that erupts at the crossroads of religion and paganism -- the title card "Christmas" yields to a procession of baroquely masked villagers (bear, Reaper, whisked warrior) marching toward the camera. "Thereís no evil spirit in church... Thereís a Satan among people." The patriarchs go at it with axes, the lenses are drenched in spurting red as the fatal blow is dealt. The dead manís son (Ivan Mikolajchuk) and the killerís daughter (Larisa Kadochnikova) are sweethearts since childhood, plead eternal love, are separated; a Disneyesque sparkling star is painted on the celluloid to link the parted lovers spiritually, the girl is drowned, his grief drains the colors from the screen (Stairway to Heaven, Portrait of Jennie). The woman he eventually marries (Tatyana Bestayeva), a sensual landowner and sometime-witch, surrenders herself to the village sorcerer (Spartak Bafashvili) after he quells a storm, the image tilts up from the couple on the ground to a hill as a tree is struck by lightning. A fly couldnít land on Parajanovís camera, it sweeps high enough to take a falling treeís POV as it flattens a character and low enough for a daisy to block the sun. The world is sometimes a blanket of snow and others an enchanted garden, the sounds go from pan-flute kolyadkas to the elephant shrieks of long trumpets to... Bernard Herrmann-style lushness? The lovers are reunited in a duet held between realms: "When we fell in love, even dry oaks blossomed / When we parted the lilacs withered..." Parajanovís cinema is an artisanal art, a thousand Byzantine wonders pass before the camera, myth and fabrics and immemorial delirium. The absolute faith in style reaches back to Dovzhenko, the dilapidated cabin from Ivanís Childhood makes a brief appearance; the fervid pageantry is like experiencing the medium with virgin eyes (children peek through a window in the closing shot). Cinematography by Yuri Ilyenko. With Nikolai Grinko, Leonid Yengibarov, and Leonid Yengibarov.
--- Fernando F. Croce