Autumn Elegy of a Withering Pomegranate
One of Leo Tolstoy’s most memorable aphorisms, “All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, probably could become an epigraph to this film from Azerbaijan. Pomegranate Orchard (Nar bagi), which screened in competition at the 13th Eurasia International Film Festival, is a work about happiness, uniqueness and fragility – which always come to an end. At the same time, the film impressed not so much with the painful feeling of withering beauty but as a farewell to wonderful times.
The work of Azerbaijani director Ilgar Najaf tells a classically built and traditionally told family story of betrayal and forgiveness. The son, who disappeared about seven years ago, returns to his father’s house surrounded by a pomegranate orchard, which in fact is the breadwinner for the entire family that is left: the old man, his daughter-in- law and his grandson. The plot is built around attempts to renew the relationship of the returning son, who has already become a stranger, with his father and his own son.
The first scene of the film resembles an ancient miniature and is framed by a window. It gradually introduces the viewer into a state of contemplation, with which the whole picture is filled. In the frame we see a pomegranate tree – a multicultural symbol that combines the interpretation of family life, cyclicity and, of course, images of love and fertility. Running through the whole film, this symbol remains canonically red almost to the very end. And only in the finale it becomes distorted and represents the death of family values, emphasizing the unnaturalness of what is happening. The film’s authors beautifully arrange colour accents with the help of the pomegranate: picturesque still lives and intimate portraits. So, both the pomegranate orchard itself and its fruit become the chief metaphors of the deserted and lost paradise orchard. Like Anton Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard (1904), the orchard is now a synonym of farewell to the beautiful world of the past, where everything breathed with the feeling of something loved .
At the same time, the general concept of contemplation and deliberateness is the cornerstone of the stylistic feature, creating the tempo and rhythm of the film and driving the narrative. In turn, it is built in a linear manner. Here, it is not the complexity of the composition structure or the rugged plot lines that are important, but the authentic philosophy of contemplation presented in the form of a parable. All the plot turns occur at their climax. Parallels of characters are clearly arranged, so the highest moment of tension – the betrayal and departure of the “prodigal son” – is canonical and recognizable at the same time. The characters (the old man, the son, the grandson) represent a three-part model of the tree, where the old man is the root, the son is the trunk, the grandson is the crown and the fruit. The denouement of the film is logical and clear: due to his vision deficiency, the boy sees the pomegranates in black colour outside the window, clearly conveying the sense of loss of colour. Black garnet is the fruit of betrayal and great pain. In that way, the images actually form the story lines, making them elements of a huge mosaic that constitutes the film. It is important to note that their inclusion is very measured and organic. For example, one of the brightest images is the pomegranate tree that has grown through an old car. This frame first gives us the sense of the absolute power of nature over all modern, and therefore temporary, aspects of life. But then it becomes not just an aesthetic and philosophical link in the narrative, but finds its meaning through the story of the returned father about the tragedy and the reason for his flight from the family. At this point, the memory and imagination of the viewer send him to the frame with the machine that earlier had seemed purely nominal. Then this image becomes most vivid and profound, because it carries a personal history of unhappiness.
Another important component of the plot is the victim. First of all, this is a sacrifice for the future: for the sake of the grandson and his parents, the old man sells the pomegranate orchard; for the sake of an illegitimate daughter who has been taken hostage, the central character leaves his family. In both instances, there is a betrayal of what can be called tradition: in the case of the old man, selling his native land; in the case of his son, another flight from his family. Both signal change and therefore, like the door that slams, everything must change: instantly, definitively and forever.
All the film’s characters are archetypes, yet they do not look like echoes of the distant past, but like real people living around us. They are people with their own tragedies, truths and choices. Therefore this multifaceted world is as beautiful as a kaleidoscope, where everything flows and changes.
The Pomegranate Orchard is a touching picture where all cinematographic components (script, direction, cinematography, acting, editing) are harmoniously combined to form a lyrical farewell to the past. This is the autumn elegy of a withering pomegranate.
Edited by Birgit Beumers
© FIPRESCI 2017