Director: Georgy Shengelaya
Production: Gruzia Films; Sovcolor, 35mm; running time: 100 minutes. Released 1971. Filming completed 1971.
Screenplay: Erlom Akhvlediani and Georgy Shengelaya; photography: Constantin Opryatine; music: V. Koukhianidzé.
Cast: Avtandil Varazi (Niko Pirosmanichvili); David Abachidzé; Zourad Carpianidzé; Teimouraz Beridzé; Boris Tsipouria; Chota Daouchvili; Maria Guaramadzé; Nino Setouridzé; Rosalia Mintshine.
Akhvlediana, Erlom, and Georgy Shengelaya, Pirosmani, in Avant-Scene du Cinéma (Paris), 15 December 1979.
Liehm, Mira, and Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: East European Film after 1945, Berkeley, 1977.
Matei, G., in Cinema (Bucharest), April 1972.
Marazov, I., in Kinoizkustvo (Sofia), June 1972.
Bensch, S., in Film a Doba (Prague), October 1972.
Trujillo, M., in Cine Cubano (Havana), nos. 86–88, 1973.
Gow, Gordon, "Unfamiliar Talents," in Films and Filming (London), February 1974.
Variety (New York), 12 June 1974.
Elley, D., in Films and Filming (London), September 1974.
Glaessner, Verina, in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), September 1974.
Capdenac, Michel, in Ecran (Paris), 15 November 1975.
Gauthier, G., in Image et Son (Paris), December 1975.
Haustrate, G., "Pirosmani: Une Osmose quasi pariaite," in Cinéma (Paris), September-October 1975.
Portal, M., in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), September-October 1975.
Horton, A., in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), no. 2, 1979.
Aidan, M., "Notes sur l'auteur de Pirosmani: Gueorgui Chenguelaia," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), October-November 1989.
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Pirosmani is one of the works that has contributed to the reputation of recent Georgian Soviet film. The director, Georgi Shengelaya, is a member of a prominent film family. (His father was one of the pioneers of the Georgian industry; his mother was an early star; and his brother is also a director.) The film portrays the life of Georgian primitive artist Niko Pirosmanishvili, who died in 1918. Yet if the film is considered in terms of the familiar category of the art bio-pic, it is obvious that it minimizes the dramatic and psychologizing tendencies frequently associated with this genre. The film presents events from the artist's life in episodic form: through the accretion of individual scenes, the status of the artist is gradually defined. But the film's point of view toward, and explanation of, its main character is developed almost elliptically. A distinct reticence characterizes the film as a whole and the people within it. In part this is due to the measured pauses in dialogue and silences within specific scenes. In addition, the narrative is not developed in terms of strong casual links but can only be fully understood in terms of retrospective reconstruction; each sequence does not proceed clearly and unambiguously to the next. Instead, mid-way through a particular scene, some event or line of dialogue may indicate that it is now one week, or three years, later than the previous scene.
For example, at one point Pirosmani opens a diary store. Some time later his sister and her husband unexpectedly come for a visit; their conversation indicates it has been some time since they have seen one another. His sister suggests that he should get married. The scene is immediately followed by one of a wedding. In mostly long shots one sees guests arriving, receiving flour, dancing, toasting the couple, and generally engaging in those activities associated with wedding receptions. The scene ends when Pirosmani gets up from the table and walks out. Back at his store he explains to his partner that the wedding was a trick, that the bride's relatives have stolen his flour. However, their treachery is not at all clear during the marriage scene; in context, the distribution of the flour appears as something on the order of a social custom. Moreover, whatever reticence and uneasiness Pirosmani exhibits during the wedding scene is not any different from his appearance and behaviour through most of the film. Thus, one can make sense of his departure and understand that something is wrong only after the fact; even then the extent of our comprehension is limited. Pirosmani subsequently causes his business to fall by raising prices exorbitantly on his steady paying customers and by giving his stock away to poor children. One gathers that these actions are a response to his wedding experience, an expression of general disgust and of feeling exploited. But his attitude is not fully clarified by the film.
Through such episodes the status of the artist is seen to be that of an outsider. Pirosmani never fits into any defined social group; he rejects his business and marriage. At one point some artists are interested in his work and invite him to the city. But his glory is short-lived. He is uncomfortable and out of place in the world of salon intellectuals, and his work is ridiculed by a mainstream art critic in a newspaper.
The film uses painting to structure its narrative of the artist's life. The major segments of the film are indicated by images of Pirosmani paintings, "Giraffe," "White Cow," "Easter Lamb," and others. The paintings function as titles and transitional devices. For example, the picture of the white cow precedes a shot of the main character walking through the streets among a herd of cows. Later the painting is hung outside his store, "so people will know what we sell." In fact the filmic mise-en-scène is modeled on the paintings. Frontal medium and long shots predominate, with simple decor and stark lighting, imitating the primitivism of the paintings we see in the film. In this way the art itself becomes the most significant structuring principle of the film and its central subject.
—M. B. White