A Story Beyond The Armenian Border

in 7th Beyond Borders International Documentary Festival, Castellorizo

by Pablo Garcia Conde

The wide range of films available in today’s cinematic world means that, on occasions, films of notable interest are forgotten, diluted among many other films. The Beyond Borders International Documentary Festival, held for the seventh time on the small island of Castellorizo (Greece), has rescued a few films that, despite being three or four years old, deserve to be shown to the public. And in this way, perhaps, they can also win some recognition from the jury. This is the case of Village of Women, 2019, which participated in the official section of the festival and finally won the FIPRESCI award.

The film reflects very well the spirit of this festival held in the most extreme point of the Hellenic country. One of the objectives of the festival is to unite and expose stories that take place in different countries, to highlight the stories of overcoming obstacles and suffering that occur across borders. In Village of Women, the women protagonists must endure the distance from their husbands and fathers for nine months of the year. They live in the countryside, where they work the crops, tend the livestock, bake bread and spend their time missing the absent men. The film could have highlighted what life is like for these workers in Russia, it could have put the focus between the two countries or given preeminence to what the men think and suffer. However, the film places the women at the center of the story, which gives, if anything, greater emphasis on the distance, the emotional heartbreak and the harsh living conditions in this small Armenian village.

The only men who live there are retired, and they themselves report that their children also work in Russia. But that’s not a problem, since, they say, the women are strong and stand on their own two feet. Indeed, most of the time they are seen working. And, from time to time, they get a call from their husbands, a call they look forward to. “If he could see me now”… says one of the women as she dances to the music on TV. The presence of the husbands and fathers is always guaranteed, in one way or another, although, of course, always offscreen. It is this “out of frame” that maintains the attraction throughout most of the film, since the mentions, the calls, the comments and even the sporadic tears always allude to that absent man who leaves an everlasting scar on the loved ones waiting in the motherland.

Tamara Stepanyan has captured very well the family atmosphere, the everyday life and the passing of time while impatiently waiting for the moment when the family will be united again. Her camera manages to capture the beauty of Armenia’s rural landscapes, the humble interiors, the hard work of the women and the innocence of the children who listen to their families saying that no other man should leave his family to go work in Russia. It is this ability to show the intimacy of families that arouses the most tenderness for these people who suffer from homesickness, grief and melancholy. Wives who sing songs of departed loves, mothers who long for a reunion that seems always far away, husbands and grandfathers who talk about their hardships and the meaningless lives they have had to live, children who grow up without seeing their parents and thinking that someday their lives will be the same as theirs… these are the characters that populate Village of Women, a documentary that awakens affection and humanity, and does so with incredible beauty- leaving the viewers with a bittersweet taste.

Pablo Garcia Conde
Edited by Ron Fogel