Review Date: November 19, 2002
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Atom Egoyan
Producers: Atom Egoyan, Robert Lantos
First of all, I just want to say that as a dude of Armenian heritage, as someone who has lived with the constant memory of the Armenian genocide (during which over 1.5 million innocent Armenians were systematically slaughtered) and its denial by the Turkish government, I am very pleased that a film which mentions this tragedy is finally seeing the light of the big screen (it's more of a backdrop to the actual character-driven drama). We all know the adage about those not recognizing the past and how they're doomed to repeat it, well, you needn't go any further than one Adolf Hitler, who was once quoted as saying "Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?" before he embarked upon his own attempt at the extermination of the Jewish people during the second World War. Movies like this expose those who commit these heinous acts, educate those who aren't aware of it and bring some semblance of peace to those whose ancestors (like my own) were massacred at the hands of other human beings...who seemingly lost touch with their own humanity.
As for the film itself, as much as it meant to me and as much as I will whole-heartedly recommend that anyone reading this see the movie (for its historical significance alone), I didn't find myself as involved as I'd hoped and was ultimately confused, by the use of too many characters battling with their own "modern day" psychological issues. Granted, my thoughts on this film are likely to be somewhat tainted because of the personal nature of its subject matter (like most Armenians, a painting of Mount Ararat hangs from at least one wall of my parents' home), but for anyone who has read any of my previous reviews, I always like to reiterate how this is just my "humble little opinion" anyway, so take it for what it's worth. What I did like about the film, other than its ability to serve up such an unspeakable time in the history of the Armenian people (including graphic rapes, murders, stabbings, etc...), was the way that the story was structured as a film within a film, with a strong emphasis on character interactions and connections between them (i.e. do tragedies of this magnitude ultimately affect us all?) Unfortunately, I didn't care enough for most of the film's modern day protagonists or feel emotionally attached enough to carry me through many of their problems (the French girl was particularly annoying). The film is probably a little too cerebral as well (an Egoyan film...no way?), and might have been improved with more emphasis on fewer characters and a greater emotional connection to them. Having said that, I can certainly appreciate how any picture about a human genocide cannot be marketed, or made, for that matter, without another angle by which to present it to an audience.
The film does an excellent job, however, at passing along information about the massacre through its flashbacks, with enough details and brutal reminders to connect its impact to their modern day descendants. ARARAT certainly isn't the defining film about the Armenian genocide, but when you consider that it's basically one of the first movies to ever even present it into the greater context of its story-line, it's definitely a solid start. There was actually one specific "modern day" sequence which was quite moving to me (and my mom, with whom I saw the pic), featuring Bruce Greenwood acting in a scene in the film (within the film!) as someone walks through the set and ruins his "take". His retort to the insensitive woman put a lot in perspective. I wish more of the film had that sort of emotional resonance. I did enjoy other aspects of the film as well, including the intermittent use of my native tongue (the film also includes French and plenty of subtitles), as well as the Armenian actors, paintings, music (and yes, even System of a Down gets a cool "musical cameo") and actual footage from my "homeland". Ironically, I've never been to Armenia myself, and neither have most "new generation" Armenians since we were booted out of there after 1915, as Turkey took over much of our country, including the area which includes the famed mount Ararat. Like most Armenians, I was born in another country, in my case, Holland, and brought up in Canada. The film also does a good job of intertwining the story from the past with the lead characters' modern day issues and doesn't over-detail the genocide either (it's not a documentary after all).
As mentioned above, I didn't expect to be able to write an actual "review" about a topic this close to me, but hopefully some of my thoughts on ARARAT have given you some insight into my warped psyche (imagine if a loved one of yours was murdered and you had to review a film about it...not cool). As someone who was raised in Armenian schools and churches, I was, and continue to be reminded of the genocide every day, particularly when listening to a story told by a survivor. Many of my own ancestors were senselessly slaughtered during the genocide, and if it wasn't for my extra brave great-great grandmother, I would likely not even be alive today. She smuggled her four kids through to a small town man with a horse right before the massacres began-- a man who ultimately, rode them to freedom. One of those kids, turned out to be my great-grandmother, who had my grandmother, who had my mom, who had me. Pretty F'd up, eh?
In the end, this project might just have been too ambitious for its own good. With a project so close to Egoyan's heart and so many different balls up in the air, the end result is effective in some respects but confusing in others. So should you see it? Definitely! Why? Because, in my measly little opinion, it's vital for everyone to be (at the very least) aware of unacknowledged atrocities this devastating, especially since it is their acceptance, and others of its sort, that will lead to a greater understanding among cultures and people in general (sounds kind of familiar, don't it?). For anyone who is not aware, the government of Turkey has always denied responsibility for the Armenian genocide, and with its strength in the world community today, left many other countries to check that off as their formal position as well. An example of the pressure on some countries: the government of France actually passed an Armenian genocide resolution in January 2001, only to have Turkey cancel many contracts with French companies in return. Armenians around the world also take to the streets on April 24th of every year to unite and attempt to remind the world of this tragedy and of its needs for acknowledgement. Now I certainly don't consider myself an expert on the topic, but I do have a very strong emotional connection to it, via several of my own family members who thankfully keep the memory of our lost ancestors alive. For anyone who is interested in reading more about this unconscionable historical event, click here for the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about the Armenian genocide, or any of the following links for more general information: Armenia-Genocide.org, The Genocide and Human Rights University Program, Genocide.am.