Film and Rembrance
Historic events can be experienced vicariously through the magic of movies. When the events depicted in a particular film are denied by certain groups, the movie -- at the very least -- serves as a starting point for further exploration. Such is the case with Ararat, a complex examination of the Armenian massacre in Turkey, circa 1915. Acclaimed director Atom Egoyan, an artistic filmmaker and a person of Armenian descent, brings both sensibilities to this cinematic interpretation of a tragic historical event.
Although not an easy movie to follow, I found Ararat worthy of close attention. Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter) uses a film-within-a-film approach in depicting the Armenian genocide. This allows him to focus on individuals living today who are working on or playing characters in the movie -- which is being filmed by a noted director (Charles Aznavour). Not surprisingly, many people involved in making the movie have some connection with the Armenian tragedy. For example, Raffi (David Alpay), a driver for the film, is the son of an art history professor (Arsinée Kharijian) who serves as a consultant on the movie, and part-Turkish Ali (Elias Koteas), an actor playing a sadistic Turkish military official, believes the genocide probably never happened.
Raffi wants to find out the truth. He travels to the actual site of the massacre, but when he returns, a customs officer (Christopher Plummer) becomes suspicious of the cans of film the young man has with him. Plummer's character takes Raffi aside and listens to his story about the movie, his personal problems, and his ideas about the Armenian holocaust.
With its numerous flashbacks, flashforwards, and movie-making scenes, Ararat emerges as a film like none I've seen before. Perhaps that's why it intrigued me so much. Too many movies today seem bogged down in predictability; others suffer from sequelitis. This one is quite different, and despite it's serious subject matter, refreshing because of its originality.
A strong ensemble cast helped draw me into the film's sometimes confusing story. Newcomer Dalpay, who looks like a grown-up Frodo (only more handsome), shows considerable star potential here. With his sensitive eyes, he convincingly projects the frustration of a son at odds with his powerful mother. Koteas (Novocaine) transforms his "Ali" into the evil Jevdet Bey with frightening ease. Kharijian, Egoyan's beautiful wife in real life, endows her professor/mother role with just the right combination of authority and passion. Old pros Plummer (Nicholas Nickleby) and Aznavour (The Truth about Charlie) add class to any movie they appear in -- and this one is no exception.
Some viewers might not admire Ararat as much as I do. I have to admit it's more challenging and thought-provoking than entertaining. Still, filmmaker Egoyan deserves kudos for trying something this creative and ambitious.
(Released by Miramax and rated "R" for violence, sexuality/nudity and language. On the Miramax Home Entertainment DVD, Ararat includes: commentary by director/writer Atom Egoyan; deleted scenes with optional commentary from Egoyan; a behind-the-scenes featurette; an "Arsinée Kharijian on Ararat" featurette; Raffi's video footage; historical information; and the theatrical trailer.)