Sergei Paradjanov is best known for his films SHADOWS OF OUR FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS and THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES which are boldly original and equal parts ethnic folk tale and ceremonial pageant. But the director is also remembered as a charismatic political dissident. In 1974, Paradjanov
was arrested by the Soviet government for alleged trafficking in objets d'art, hard currency dealing--and homosexuality. He was given a five-year prison sentence. During Paradjanov's incarceration he wrote a series of short stories. Upon his death in 1990 his longtime cinematographer Yuri Illienko
decided to turn one of the prison stories into a movie which became SWAN LAKE - THE ZONE.
The movie opens with an unnamed man (Victor Solovyov) who has just escaped from a prison camp located in an ungodly industrial countryside where polluted rivers spout bloody sulfuric streams. The fugitive finds refuge in the hollows of a huge metal sculpture of the Soviet hammer and sickle.
Inside he feverishly searches for some water to slake his thirst. He laps up the dregs of discarded liquor bottles and drinks from a dirty puddle. He peers from inside of the sculpture and watches the prison guards patrol the area outside. He falls asleep and dreams of menacingly huge artificial
swans who lie dead among the rioting crowd of prisoners.
A little boy (Pylyp Illienko) who also uses the sculpture as a refuge becomes jealous of the convict's discovery of his secret fort. The boy's mother (Liudmyla Yefymenko) takes pity on the convict and brings him food and the comforts of her body. One day, when the woman goes to meet her lover
hidden in the hammer and sickle, she sees with horror that it has been repaired. It is sealed up and covered with new silver paint. The film then slides into progressively more horrific terrain as the audience is witness to the man's torture at the hands of the prison guards; his death; his
mystical rebirth; and his eventual crucifixion.
With it's unrelenting grey tones and ponderousness, SWAN LAKE - THE ZONE is a film that Paradjanov would never have made. He was far too interested in the pleasures of living. His films were ecstatic feasts of color and music. They were always one step away from lapsing into utter frivolity. And
even after the filmmaker was released from prison his films continued to celebrate life. The only things reminiscent of Paradjanov's sensibility in SWAN LAKE - THE ZONE are its occasional moments of dark wit and its flashes of overwrought allegory.
But SWAN LAKE - THE ZONE has its own authentic power. The writer-director, Yuri Illienko, has an unusual gift for mixing the surreal with the mundane. This mixture gives the film the atmosphere of a growing nightmare. We have no doubt that this horror is the daily routine of the film's
characters. They don't seem to react to the degradation that their lives have been reduced to. And the atrocities that we witness the convict suffer unfold with a leisurely pace that is almost banal. This lackadaisical numbness towards horror is right on target. It gives the film a hypnotic pull.
We are compelled to watch a sensual vision of humanity's progressive indifference to pain. (Excessive violence.)
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- Released: 1991
- Rating: NR
- Review: Sergei Paradjanov is best known for his films SHADOWS OF OUR FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS and THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES which are boldly original and equal parts ethnic folk tale and ceremonial pageant. But the director is also remembered as a charismatic political… (more)