Vancouver Film Festival - ARARAT
a good movie to be made about the Armenian massacre but this isnt
one of them.
Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver, Bruce Greenwood (Dr.
Clarence Usher), Elias Koteas, Christopher Plummer, David Alpay,
Raoul Bhaneja, Marie-Josee Croze, Arsinee Khanjian
Director: Atom Egoyan- a deeply personal project for Atom Egoyan,
an Armenian-Canadian. His 1993 movie, Calendar, was filmed and set
Screenwriter: Atom Egoyan
(The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica, Felicia's Journey, Calendar, The
This film addresses the true 1915-1917 holocaust of over a million
and a half Armenians by the Ottoman Empire. Ararat is a province
Genocide Memorial Day is on April 24th
I accept the Directors premise that the Armenians were slaughtered
in their millions. Indeed, just as Atom Egoyan is from a displaced Armenian
family and himself raised in Victoria, our own publisher Carines
great grandfather was from Armenia and fled the slaughter to Germany where
thirty years later his son was put into a German death camp. He survived
and founded a family. Persecuted Armenians are the hidden shame of Eastern
Europe and Atom Egoyan is right to bring it to our attention.
However, there are warning signs. You know a bad American movie made in
Canada when it stars Christopher Plummer and whereas I wouldnt want
to deny him work in his old age, when a Canadian film resorts to Christopher
Plummer, you know something very bad is going to happen.
And so, watching Ararat last night at the 21st Vancouver Film Festival
it was an uncomfortable feeling to know almost from the outset that this
was a mess. Earnest, well meant, but a mess.
When one tells a story through the lens of a movie within a movie it is
always a mistake to then make that inner movie a bad movie (whether that
was the intention or not). The inner movie is the story of Dr Clarence
Usher (Bruce Greenwood) who was the eyewitness to the slaughter. Added
to which there is an overlay of the personal lives of those playing the
parts and those observing those playing the parts, centring around the
portrait by Gorky of his mother and himself as a child, an icon to exiled
Armenians. In addition there is the role playing between Christopher Plummers
Customs officer on his last day and David Alpay the putative angry
young man seeking to make sense of his life, his relationships, the death
of his freedom-fighting father, his aggressive girlfriend who also lost
her father and the meaning of what it is to be Armenian in Canada. Its
a lot for two characters to have to carry in an extended scene.
Worse we have the Customs officers back story to contend with
his gay son living with the Turkish actor who will play with villain in
Its all way too much. The superstructure of this film cant
stand the weight of all the people and their problems. It cant stand
the making of a bad film about a serious tragedy; it cant even stand
the endless blown up shots of David Alpays characters home movie
of Armenia. (Or the logic of the rolls of unexposed film not going through
an x-ray machine in Turkey since Sept 11th).
There is a good movie to be made about the Armenian massacre but this
isnt one of them.
There is nothing especially terrible. The shots of Armenians being slaughtered
are terrifying and real and perhaps this was the film that should have
been made with heart on Atoms sleeve. The influences from Truffauts
Day for Night are there but they are not carried off.
Christopher Plummer, by sheer weight of experience makes us realise that
he is good, but too late, because we are impatient, because we all hate
customs officers, because it slows the movie down, by the time we
have a payoff, we have lost patience with these two.
Someone, at sometime, should have said Atom there are too many stories
here, too many movies, too many personal; stories, too many art galleries,
too much unexplained about vast homes filled with dope growing under hot
All storytellers want to get it all in, but luckily for most of us there
are story editors.
Ararat is a disappointment because it tries too hard, does too much and
dilutes it tragic message.
© Marcel D'Agneau October 2002
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