Monday, 23 July 2007

Le Voyage en Arménie (Armenia)

film premier and Q&A in London, Barbican Arts Centre, 5 July 2007

I liked the film. It was simple and complex, with Guediguian style humour which I like and which made the audience, myself including, to laugh a lot and to think a lot. Identity, Diaspora, corruption, freedom, homeland, love, family, communism/capitalism… these were just a small selection of issues touched by this film.

The only storyline that I did not particularly like was the one related to Armenian lapdancer turned hairdresser. At the end, it turned out to be too much of a fairy-tale; other than that, and overall, I would certainly recommend it. I do not intend providing here with the review of this film, it’s available elsewhere, and here is the original trailer:

I’d rather share my impressions from Q&A session after the film. I must say that the film was very well received by the audience, mainly non-Armenian. Afterwards, my non-Armenian friends asked me to keep them posted in case of any future showcase of Armenian film or art in London, which I will certainly do.

Interestingly, same day and time, Armenian Institute in London organised an evening with Mark Grigoryan, producer from the Russian Service of BBC who recently visited newly restored Armenian church on Akhtamar Island in current Turkey. As if there are so many Armenia-related events in London, they organised it same day. For that reason, many people who would like to attend both events were forced to make a choice.

Anyway, back to the Q&A. It lasted quite long, more than an hour, and it was almost as interesting as watching the film. It was presented by Time Out London critique Dave Calhoun. Along with director Robert Guediguian, also present were Ariane Ascaride (Anna – the main heroine of the film) and Simon Abkarian (Sarkis Arabian), talented actor of Armenian origin. He turned out to be nice guy too. I had a chat with him after the screening; and was quite impressed.
*these pictures were taken by me during Q&A: Robert Guediguian (far right); Dave Calhoun; Ariane Ascaride, Simon Abkarian (far left).

Guediguian is half German, Ariane has Itallian roots, and they are life partners. Simon is ethnic Armenian from Lebanon who lives in France now. And here we are – the issue of identity, in fact, multiple identities. Simon in this case referred to the right-wing French proposal on one national identity, and he said that he refuses to consider himself within a ‘box’ with proposed one identity attached to it. He’d rather go for multiple identities which are not in conflict with each other but rather parallel to each other and help to understand complex identity issues in contemporary world. The same may be applied to others, e.g. Scottish and British and so on.

For Robert Guediguian and Arian Ascaride, the most exciting in Armenia were people, human factor. Despite all difficulties and socialism/capitalism transformations, they found kind of warmness, openness among people in Armenia which is lacking in modern Western world.

According to Guediguian, there were differences in the ways Armenians from Armenia and Diaspora perceived the film. While Armenians from Armenia liked the fact that the film presents both positive and negative aspects of Armenia, in Diaspora people prefer seeing only positive Armenian image. When I told about this one of my close friends who is British Armenian, she said that it is because Armenians who live in Armenia are comfortable with being Armenian, and it’s their routine, while for Diaspora Armenians, Armenia is still something like a dream and they want to associate with Armenia, their dream, only positive aspects…

They showed the film in Yerevan and those villages where they shot it, using improvised screens. Ariane said that despite lacking adequate number of cinemas, people in Armenia seem to know and like films, and she was impressed by the fact that they recognised her and her films. She got an impression that the main source of films and cinema-related news for Armenians is TV.

I remember that during Soviet period, along with cinemas, other sources of films were videos and TV programmes which at least once a week were devoted to world cinema. Surprisingly, being in London, I discovered that through our Armenian TV programmes I saw films (and it was during Soviet period!) which were censored by British Film rating agencies or just recently released here.

After the Soviet period, during difficult early years of independence, when people stopped attending cinemas and most cinemas were closed due to economy, or being transformed into other businesses etc, the main source of films, along with national and Russian TV, became local cable TV. Luckily, nowadays cinemas started slowly regaining their role; also, DVDs became one of the main sources of world cinema. Unfortunately, main cinemas in Yerevan most frequently show blockbusters, and Armenians who like independent, arthouse cinema are lacking choices and mainly rely on DVDs. I hope, in time, I will be able to have my favourite hangout at independent cinema in Yerevan, something like Curzon Soho in London, which I love.

Back to the Q&A, Simon Abgarian pointed out some of his observed negative aspects of evolving capitalism in Armenia. Diasporan Armenians started buying apartments or homes in Yerevan, and prices became too high for many locals, who can no longer afford buying properties... Also, some ‘new Armenians’ do not shy away from building their villas in the middle of very poor neighbourhoods…

Ariane authored the script of the film. At first, she did not wanna go to Armenia, like her heroine Anna in the film, but when she went, following Guediguian’s request, she fall in love with Armenia, with people, and she went back again, with a recorder. She said that it was good that she did not know language, it enabled her to look at everything as outsider. She asked some of her Armenain male friends to take her to places that men go, to spend time the way men do. Then she asked Marie Desplechin, who is writing children books, to actually write the script for her, based on recorded ‘diaries’.

*Here is the short clip which I filmed during Q&A after London premier of Le Voyage en Arménie (Armenia), at Barbican Centre in London, 5 July 2007. In conversation with Time Out's critique Dave Calhoun; also present were director Robert Guediguian (far left) and actor Simon Abkarian (far right). I call it "Ariane Ascaride: Falling in love with Armenia":

Ariane Ascaride was named best actress for her role in French-Armenian director Robert Guediguian's Armenia at Rome's inaugural film festival (October 2006).
At the award ceremony, in halting Italian, Ascaride said: "You can't imagine how happy I feel ... to have an award in Rome, in Italy, because my father's parents are Italian. It feels like coming home."
The film Armenia relates the story of a voyage of initiation for Anna (Ascaride), a young woman from Marseille, France, who reluctantly travels to Armenia in search of her ailing, elderly father who wanted to see his native Armenia before he died. This becomes a very personal story of discovery through the land of her father.
"It's a role and a personality that I invented personally, since I wrote the script with Marie Desplechin," Ascaride told AFP. "I had a very strong desire to talk about this country, Armenia, and I also wanted to confront this issue of roots ... that you haven't yet gone to look for."
Also, she said, "I wanted to give a gift to Robert Guediguian [her life partner]. He had long been wanting to do something on Armenia, but it was easier for me" as he was too emotionally attached to the country.

*images from film


Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say, i was there! :) Really enjoyed the film too, but you are right about the fairytale aspect...
ps did you know that Simon Abkarian is also in Atom Egoyan's Ararat? :)

artmika said...

I cant beleive, Rhiannon!!! :) Who would have thought that we would be at the same film premiere and would 'meet up' later through our blogs? - the whole world is such a small place! Not only Ararat, he starred in recent Yes film too, which is US/UK production. Missed it on its release in 2005 but really curious, will try to find DVD.
Here is Time OuT London review:

From Time Out London

The recipe for Potter’s latest film is characteristically intriguing and original. ‘Yes’ explores the racial, religious, cultural and sexual prejudice and conflict engendered in the somewhat unlikely love affair between the elegant Irish-American wife (Joan Allen) of a British politician (Sam Neill) and a charming but feisty Lebanese restaurant worker (Simon Abkarian), with all of the dialogue in rhyming couplets. It may sound pretentious and unappealing, but don’t let the prospect of verse put you off. The script is witty and made easy to follow by the performances, and the film is arguably her finest to date. A delightfully funny, touching and tenderly erotic romance for a post-9/11 world, it begins brilliantly with a quizzical, offbeat prologue in which Shirley Henderson’s confiding cleaning lady inspects her rich employers’ house for signs of muck while waxing philosophical and scientific over the evidence she finds not only of physical passion but of cosmic laws. Thereafter, the film charts the lovers’ courtship, consummation and almost inevitable slide into crisis as their various differences, inequalities and needs – not to mention the pressures exerted by the surrounding world – conspire to create a gulf between them…There’s a great deal to enjoy here. The performances are beautifully gauged, with Allen proving yet again that she’s one of the best screen actresses around. An inspired touch is her visit to a dying communist aunt (Sheila Hancock) in Belfast, which together with a wry but strangely uplifting epilogue contributes metaphysical meat to the piece. More sensual qualities, meanwhile, are provided by Potter’s typically acute sensitivity to music, dance, colour and movement. A real treat.