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Medieval Film Club: The Legend of the Suram Fortress

Strand Campus, London

28 Feb Kings2 Part of Medieval Film Club

The best-known version of the legend surrounding the Surami fortress is the 1860 novella The Surami Fortress (described as ‘the most accomplished Georgian prose narrative of the mid-nineteenth century’) by the Georgian writer Daniel Chinkadze (1830–1860). The real medieval fortress is located in the Likhi Range in Georgia, a part of the Caucasus mountains. The folk-tale is set in the Middle Ages and is a bitter critique of serfdom – and of the clergy, complicit with the feudal lords. The most important change in Parajanov’s film comes in the culminating moment of the tale: the director presents Zurab’s immurement as a form of patriotic self-sacrifice (the walls of the fortress will now hold up against invaders), and not as something done against his will. In the prologue of the film, there are six wooden buckets filled with construction materials, which include eggs – also used in tempera painting. The eggs in the prologue allude to the medieval painterly traditions, which serve as the main visual reference throughout the film, created ‘by painterly means’, so to speak.

Sergei Parajanov (1924–1990) was born to Armenian parents in Tbilisi. He studied in Moscow under Aleksandr Dovzhenko (1894–1956), one of the pioneers of Soviet film and of montage theory. Even though he only directed a handful of feature films (he had problems with the authorities several times and spent a number of years in labour camps; during his imprisonment, he produced hundreds of collages, drawings, and miniature dolls), he was admired by a group of people that included Andrei Tarkovsky (1932–1986), Louis Aragon (1897–1982), Elsa Triolet (1896–1970), John Updike (1932–2009), Luis Buñuel (1900–1983), Jean-Luc Godard (b.1930), François Truffaut (1932–1984), Federico Fellini (1920–1993), Françoise Sagan (1935–2004), and Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007), all of whom protested against his imprisonment, something which might have effectively led to his earlier release. Parajanov developed a very personal cinematic style, eschewing traditional ‘linear’ narrative and often using dream imagery and surrealistic visions. The Georgians David ‘Dodo’ Abashidze (1924–1990) and Sofiko Chiaureli (1937–2008) play the main roles. Both appeared in other films by Parajanov, and Chiaureli was one of the most important stage actors in Georgia during the twentieth century.

Part of the Medieval Film Club, for more information please visit the Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies website.

This screening is open to all and free to attend. No booking required.

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