Sayat Nova is a biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat Nova (King of Song) that attempts to reveal the poet's life visually and poetically rather than literally. The film depicts the poet's coming of age, discovery of the female form, falling in love, entering a monastery and dying, all framed through both Sergei Parajanov's imagination and Sayat Nova's poems. Actress Sofiko Chiaureli notably plays six roles in the film, both male and female.
The director had claimed his inspiration was "the Armenian illuminated miniatures. I wanted to create that inner dynamic that comes from inside the picture, the forms and the dramaturgy of colour." Parajanov once made a speech in Minsk in which he asserted that the Armenian public very likely did not understand Sayat Nova, but then said that people "are going to this picture as to a holiday" (Parajanov, "Vystuplenie" 610).