Political Film Society - Ararat

PFS Film Review
The Way Home


AraratIn the year 300 Armenia became the first country in the world to declare Christianity as the official religion, but ultimately the small country fell under the control of first the Arabs, later the Persians, and the eventually the Ottoman Turks, all of whom persecuted Christians, producing a diaspora. In 1828, Russia wrested a portion of the Armenian homeland from Persia, and in 1878 the Congress of Berlin awarded Russia part of the Armenian homeland from Turkey. On the eve of World War I, Armenians were scattered throughout several states. Ararat, directed by Atom Egoyan, is a film about a film. We see a few scenes staged for the background film, also entitled "Ararat," which might have been an exciting epic about the slaughter of one million Armenians in 1915 by the government of Turkey, which forced them on a death march to what is now called Syria. Instead, the foreground film is largely about members of an Armenian family in Canada who are haunted by the memory of the genocide. The one most transfixed by the genocide is eighteen-year-old Raffi (played by David Alpay), son of a father who assassinated a Turkish diplomat and a mother Ani (played by Arsinée Khanjian) who is an art historian. The father apparently committed suicide when Raffi was very young, perhaps the original source of the young man's angst, but in any case we see how the memory of the genocide evokes deep emotions within the contemporary Armenian community. Ani is promoting her recent book about an Armenian artist named Arshile Gorky (played by Simon Abkarian), who depicted a sorrowful family of the genocide on canvas, and she soon becomes a technical adviser to the film within the film. Raffi, meanwhile, went to Turkey to satisfy his curiosity about the genocide and also to provide film footage for his mother's book tour. When he returns to Canada, he is stopped by a customs official, David (played by Christopher Plummer), because he is carrying four reels of film marked "UNEXPOSED," and he refuses to allow David to open the reels. Clearly, nobody travels with unexposed film, but David does not want to ruin the handsome young Armenian's life by calling a dog to identify the contents. Through interrogation, Raffi admits that by another person gave him the reels, so he naïvely believes that they actually contain unexposed film. Accordingly, David, who is prolonging his last day of work before retirement with an extended interrogation, decides to let Raffi go, even though the contents are obviously contraband. Thus, the plot of the foreground film is uncomplicated. However, the foreground film is a prop for the background film, which deals with the Armenian genocide. One character in the background film plays a Turk, is half-Turkish, and presents the official Turkish government's view that war was in progress, so many died. (He could have mentioned that the Turks regarded the Armenians as allies of their enemy, Russia, which was then threatening them. After World War I the Soviet Union took over Armenian lands, Armenia was established as a republic within the Soviet Union in 1936, and Armenia became an independent state with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.) Raffi replies that the Armenians were Turkish citizens who posed no threat; scenes from the background film vividly show the slaughter of unarmed women and children. The film, which is thus more propaganda than plot, ends with a title that indicates that documentation of the atrocities of the genocide are in a book by Dr. Clarence Ussher, entitled An American Physician in Turkey (1917). If only the background film had been made!. MH

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