The "Golden Apricot" and its Gifts

in 12th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Elena Dulgheru

The most important film event of the Caucasian region, the Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival has become, from year to year, not only a centre of Armenian cinema, but also a meeting place for the cinema markets of the Eurasian countries from the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. Sharing a similar recent history, these film industries, even though they have different identities, have a number of common approaches both to the art of cinema and to major values of humankind. Some common human typologies and common ideals seem to be founded in their past.

The selection proposed by the organizers of the 12th edition of the Golden Apricot for consideration by the FIPRESCI and Ecumenical juries was composed mostly of films belonging to the non-competitive programme “Films Across Borders” (seven films), from the International Competition (two films) and from the “Armenian Panorama” (one film). Although they belonged to different sections, all ten films reveal aspects of a common sensitivity and vision of the world, and together they somehow complete the puzzle of a unique picture, specific to the spirit of the Golden Apricot.

Films dealing with actual social problems typical of the countries they come from, such as Ben Zaken, Corn Island (Simindis kundzuli) and Line of Credit (Kreditis limiti), films reconsidering the recent historical past, such as Moskvich, My Love (“Moskvich”, im ser), Pioneer Heroes (Pionery-geroi) and Snow Pirates (Kar korsanlari), but also films treating such eternal themes as childhood and friendship (Sivas), the struggle for inner maturation in a patriarchal world (40 Days of Silence (Chilla)), the confrontation between city and countryside (The Move (Pereezd)) and that between teacher and pupil, portrayed as a dangerous and destructive love story (The Clinch (Klinch)), form a collective, multinational cinematic portrait whose common ideals are the search for beauty and harmony and the belief in authentic human values, which secular civilization is about to totally lose.

The way they are approaching and treating these themes determines the value of the movies. And even with the limited selection we were invited to evaluate there were quite a few good films that deserve to be recognised by juries and to be seen by a larger public.

The most engrossing films that found favour with all members of the international film critics jury, but in the end did not get the prize, were Sivas, Snow Pirates and Corn Island. The first two, whose action takes place in the provinces of Turkey, explore with tenderness the universe of childhood, a universe based on friendship and the struggle for survival at a time of deep economic crisis (Snow Pirates) and on the relationship between children and animals (Sivas). Similarly, the struggle for survival of peasants in the turbulent period of the Georgian-Abkhazian war is the theme of the multi-international production directed by George Ovashvili, Corn Island, which had previously received a FIPRESCI Prize and a lot of other important awards.

The nostalgia for the former Soviet Union, or, more precisely, the desolate and tragicomical lament of the citizens of a no longer existing empire where each one knew his place in society, is the common theme of the films Pioneers Heroes and Moskvich, My Love. This latter polyphonic social and human panorama, masterfully staged, makes Aram Shahbazyan’s film one of the discoveries of the festival.

A Russian theme also resonates in the directing debut of the prominent actor Sergei Puskepalis, The Clinch. The film reveals the extreme polarization of Russian society between the rebellious criminal youth and the middle-aged intelligentsia, in other words between the so-called “New Russians” and “homo sovieticus” – two different kinds of misfits; the school, which reunites them formally, cannot overcome the huge gap between them, leading to tragicomical confrontations. The film starts on a solid basis, but gradually dissolves into an overloaded and poorly controlled narrative.

Another social theme of failed adaptation is reflected in the excellent Israeli film Ben Zaken, directed by Efrat Corem, an almost minimalist family drama about the incapacity for love and tolerance of people with broken lives that had been subject to the loss of a member of their families; without resorting to political or ideological commentary, the film discreetly reveals the long-term and painful consequences of the Israeli war.

The Georgian multiple co-production Line of Credit, directed by Salome Alexi, another feature film debutante, also deals with a dramatic social topic. In a kind of social report, the film explores the story of a woman who loses the ancestral house of her family as a result of a vicious circle of credit debts she incurs while trying to survive the economical transition of her country.

The remaining two films, The Move and 40 Days of Silence, transport us into the contemplative universe of Central Asia, with its breath-taking mountainous landscapes and eternal stillness. Both filmmakers, Marat Sarulu and Saodat Ismailova, lead us into introspective worlds in which humans come to know themselves and strengthen their characters by descending into speechlessness and meditation, and in the latter case into a vow of silence.

Edited by Stephen Locke