Guest post by Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed and Svitlana Melnyk.
In 2018 the Dovzhenko Film Studios (Kyiv, Ukraine) celebrates its 90th anniversary. Organized during the Soviet period and named after the Ukrainian film producer Oleksandr Dovzhenko in 1957, it contributed to the versatile development of Soviet cinematography. A production place for such masterpieces as Earth (1930) and White Bird with Black Mark (1970), the Dovzhenko Film Studios also produced Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a masterpiece of Ukrainian cinematography, well-known far beyond the geographical boundaries of Ukraine. Premiered in 1965, this film was innovative and subversive: in addition to a vast array of artistic experimentations, marking the outlines of Ukrainian poetic cinematography, it contributed to the development of anti-Soviet movements.
Directed in 1964 by Sergiy Parajanov, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors exercises its continuous powerful influences on audiences, and it is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for new generations of those involved in the film production process. On different ethic and aesthetic levels, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors exemplifies an intricate combination of traditions and innovations, which resulted from Paradjanov’s collaboration with the Hutsuls when creating the film. Multidimensionality and multimedia, which Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors includes, deliver the cinematographic narrative marked with visual flexibility and artistic-philosophical perseverance. The film moves slowly, but masterfully organized and orchestrated series of imaginative visual fragments hold viewers’ attention and invite them to join the journey to the world of the unspoken, fragile, and ethereal.
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors can be considered a bridge between literature and cinematography, uniting two talented representatives of the Ukrainian arts: the writer Mykhailo Kotsiubynsky and the film director Sergiy Paradjanov. In 1911 Kotsiubynsky wrote a story, “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors,” which was inspired by the Hutsul customs and traditions. Kotsiubynsky was particularly astonished by the Hutsuls’ close connection with nature and by the individual’s yearning for love and care. Rather often, this story is considered a Ukrainian version of Romeo and Juliet. Sergiy Paradjanov turned Kotsiubynsky’s impressionistic narrative into a cinematographic masterpiece, in which he shifts focus from verbal aspects to visual images that create intricate mosaics.
Although separated by a few decades, the literary work and the film are now perceived as a unity: it is hardly possible to imagine one without the other. When watching the film, we bring to life Kotsiubynsky’s characters; when reading the narrative, we see Paradjanov’s crew and actors. This aesthetic symbiosis signals the interrelation and permeability of arts, revealing the creative energy of artistic imagination that captures and goes beyond the local and the global, the individual and the collective, the national and the international, producing networks of artistic endeavors that contribute to the subversion of boundaries and conventions. Both Kotsiubynsky and Paradjanov attempt to deliver a local story that demonstrates an intriguingly interconnected world: the individual, whose memory reveals their inner world and their relations with others, is part of the universal. The two artists expose the eternal that constitutes the individual’s being, embracing both the local and the universal.
Based on Kotsiubynsky’s novel, this film narrates a story of a young man, Ivan, who falls in love with a beautiful woman, Marichka. Living in a Hutsul village located in the Ukrainian Carpathian Mountains, the young people are members of two feuding families: Marichka’s father killed Ivan’s father. In spite of the hostility, Ivan and Marichka fall deeply in love with each other and want to get married. Ivan Mykolaichuk’s and Larysa Kadochnykova’s performances deliver the intensity the conflict entails.
This story offers insights into emotional and psychological complexities of human nature; the film explores the issues of love and hatred, revenge and forgiveness, belonging and isolation, life and death. Memory, however, seems to be a component that unites multiple fragments into which the story can be dissected. Ivan’s emotional suffering is partly caused by the fact that he cannot forget Marichka; the family feud itself is rooted in the topic of memory. The two families choose not to forget the tragedies into which they are involved. While personal memories, at first glance, shape the development of the story, collective and cultural memory takes the narrative to the level of ethic and aesthetic level. Philosophical background is emphasized through an excellent incorporation of Hutsul customs and traditions and mythic (and mystic) landscapes of the Ukrainian Carpathians. A fragile beauty of Ivan and Marichka’s love is contrasted with the eternity and continuity that emanate from the majestic sceneries of Western Ukraine. In their unique way, incorporating a number of literary and cinematographic techniques, Kotsiubynsky and Paradjanov outline the interconnectedness of the individual and the universal. In this regard, love and care are presented as experiences that reveal the individual’s belonging to others and their independent being at the same time, which is, however, part of nature and cosmic harmony.
Being presented as an inherent part of nature and universe, the individual is portrayed as powerful and yet weak. The audience is confronted with a cultural symphony that delivers the authenticity of self and being. Through the incorporation of a number of music instruments, this film makes a gesture to not only appreciate the richness of folk art but also to establish connections between generations across time and space. The sound landscape of the film is richly decorated with the sounds of the trembita—a Hutsul instrument whose powerful sound seems to maintain connection between man and the divine. While being deeply rooted in the Hutsul locale, the film reaches out to diverse audiences through the integration of cinematographic innovations that help discover eternity in the context of fragmented and discontinued contemporaneity.
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors will be shown at the IU Cinema on February 3 as part of the Ukrainian Homelands series. This screening is sponsored by Ukrainian Studies Organization and the IU Cinema, a partnership that is sponsored through the Cinema’s Creative Collaborations program.
Nataliya Shpylova-Saeed is a graduate student in the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures. Her interests include Slavic Studies and American literature.
Svitlana Melnyk is a lecturer at the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at IU. She teaches Ukrainian and Russian language courses as well as Introduction to Ukrainian Culture.