Egoyan’s ‘Ararat’ Reflects a Refreshing, Independant Style

NAIRI CHOPURIAN
Special to El Vaquero

The silver screen had yet to see a production about the Armenian genocide of 1915 until Canadian Armenian director-screenwriter Atom Egoyan (“The Sweet Hereafter,” “Exotica,” “Felicia’s Journey,”) took it upon himself to introduce the provocative story of his people to the world in his movie “Ararat.”

The story examines lives of Armenians living in the Canadian diaspora and is told through the lives of a young boy named Raffi (David Alpay) and his mother Ani (Arsinee Khanjian), a historian of the life of painter Arshile Gorky. The movie parallels the lives of Armenians grappling with the question of how to live with their identity and their 87-year-old story of genocide.

The movie is about the making of a movie called “Ararat,” the ancient and symbolic mountain of historic Armenia.

The movie within the movie addresses the story of the Armenian genocide, in which 1.5 million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman Turkish government in 1915. It is in the form of a documentary based on the accounts of Dr. Clarence Usher (Bruce Greenwood), a representative of the Red Cross of the United States in Van, Armenia, during one of the noblest defenses staged against the Ottoman Turks in Armenian history.

Raffi struggles to lift the shroud of denial surrounding the Armenian genocide. He consciously recognizes his father’s death (which occurred while he was trying to assassinate a Turkish diplomat). He follows his mother in her role as historical consultant on Arshile Gorky in the movie “Ararat,” which is directed by Edward Saroyan (Charles Aznavour). Raffi’s passion turns into action when he travels to the island of Akhtamar, Armenia, the source of inspiration for Gorky’ s most famous work.

Egoyan peaks his audience’s interest because he tells his story as a set of flashbacks Raffi has during his interrogation by a customs official, played by Christopher Plummer, on his way back from Turkey.

Egoyan’s independent style is refreshing. By using the secondary movie to tell the story of the genocide, Egoyan allows himself the chance to delve into the underlying struggle of a contemporary Armenian coming to grips with his lineage and the events of 1915.

Ancient Armenian hymns were woven into the movie’s most dramatic scenes of slaughter. The film’s composer Mychael Danna, who is extremely discerning about what projects he undertakes, does a spectacular job of setting the mood for each scene.

The overshadowing subject of the genocide colors every moment of the movie. He bridges the past to the present and appeals to his audience. Death strikes a common string in all hearts and Egoyan strums it for the sake of life and lives lost.

The introduction of scenes from the secondary movie leaves you with an unrelenting demand to know more about the genocide.

Much like a run on sentence, Egoyan has written a story replete with symbolism and interconnected plots in his attempt to reinforce his conviction that the genocide of his people needs recognition.

Watching the movie gives you the same feeling you get while scrambling across the pages of a Hemingway novel anticipating that closure you never receive; the movie ends with a haunting reminder stating Turkey’s past, present and future policy of continuously denying the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

“Ararat” has been in theaters since Nov. 15 and will be playing at least until Thanksgiving weekend. For show times and more information visit www.miramax.com/ararat.