Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964)

Film director Yuri Ilyenko, one of the outstanding cinematographers and directors of the short-lived but significant Ukrainian New Wave, has passed away at age 74. Ilyenko (aka Illienko, Ilienko) first shot into prominence as the cinematographer on Sergei Paradjanov’s epochal Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1964), which launched what became known as “Ukrainian Poetic Cinema,” a movement based mainly at Dovzhenko Film Studios in Kyiv. In the years following, Ilyenko directed a series of critically lauded films including “A Well-Spring for the Thirsty” (Krynytsia dlia sprahlykh), considered a sobering, post-Holodomor updating of Aleksander Dovzhenko’s classic “Earth” (Zemlya), the wildly experimental “Eve of Ivan Kupalo” (Vechir na Ivana Kupala), “White Bird with a Black Mark” (Bilyi ptakh iz chornoyu oznakoyu), “A Forest Song (Lisova pisnia: Mavka“), and “Swan Lake: The Zone” (Lebedyne ozero: Zona).

Made in 1966, “Well-Spring” was shelved by Soviet censors for over two decades until it was officially released during the Glasnost era in 1988. “Eve of Ivan Kupalo” (1968) was rarely screened in the Soviet Union as well, but with “White Bird with a Black Mark” (1971) Ilyenko carved out a viable compromise between artistic integrity and a storyline that satisfied the Soviet censors. The film was awarded the Grand Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival. Ilyenko’s efforts in recent years, especially the controversial “A Prayer for Hetman Mazepa” (2001), met with more mixed reviews.

Ilyenko was a genuine magician behind the camera, the kind of person with so much energy, pent up over many years of difficult production circumstances, it’s a wonder he survived to make films after the Soviet Union fell. “Shadows” is completely different in style from Paradjanov‘s other films — note how wildly that camera moves in the woods (attributable more to Illienko than Paradjanov, though the latter’s experimental spirit deserves the credit for the film as a whole, which is arguably one of the most significant in Soviet cinema history).

I once wrote an essay analyzing Ilyenko’s “trilogy” (Well-Spring, Eve of Ivan Kupalo, and White Bird), in the era before publications went electronic. I’ll try to dig it up. He’s not nearly as well known as he should be, so I’ll share another couple of clips here, from Eve of Ivan Kupalo and Swan Lake: The Zone:

Rest in peace. Vichna yomu pamiat’.

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