The Urgency

in 8th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by David Pavel Vardazarian

What was really notable about the 8-year-old Golden Apricot IFF were some of the selected films. Starting from the opening film Certified Copy (Copie conforme) by Abbas Kiarostami, something promising was expected for the other films of the festival as well, as the Kiarostami film is probably the best film ever to have opened Golden Apricot. The closing film Pina by Wim Wenders was an enormous success and formed a unique culmination of the almost entirely fulfilled expectations one might have of any festival. I’d say even that Pina created a kind of cultural and aesthetic revolution in Yerevan.

The films shown during the festival days were, as can be expected, from different countries and film schools, with a range of aims and purposes, of varied quality, and they were spread across various programs. But do we really deal with “cinediversity” when we have some 65 countries screening films in another country? It is almost impossible, as it is to have biodiversity by bringing some plants from a far-away country to grow in another country if nothing else they have in common can be found. The same is true when it comes to cinema, when arts are corroborated by common values. It seems that the only thing in cinema that can truly be appreciated is its urgency, its actuality. It’s easier when you take films from the region (in this case, the Caucasus and the CIS in the broad sense) with their almost common background.

I tried to evaluate the FIPRESCI program films according to urgency and actuality. The Turkish film City of the Scattered (Daginiklar kenti) by Uygar Asan daringly starts with vulnerable Turkish issues, but it ultimately fails maybe because of its inappropriate philosophical generalization and a totally obscure private case. The Iranian film Nader and Simin. A Separation (Jodaeiye Nader az Simin) by Asghar Farhadi was among the favourites of the festival — not only due to the traditionally close relationship between Armenian and Iranian cinema, but largely because of its true artistic values, which the director managed to put forth despite of the everyday story and situation that form the basis for the plot. This is a kind of film, which works as the main source of vision for a neighbouring and close, but “closed” country like Iran, which one had always wanted to discover. But there are very few films that help the viewer with that task without disappointing him/her. And what is even more valuable, they represent their country, morals and traditions in the best way, although the chosen story chosen is almost always tragic. The films make good viewing even in countries where the family tradition is not the strongest: nevertheless, its re-evaluation through some new means and plot offers something for every spectator, and for juries: the film has received numerous awards.

The Daughter-in-Law (Kelin) is Ermek Tursonov’s noteworthy debut. The film from Kazakhstan may be called too aesthetic by some, too festival-intended by others, but let’s not be a mother-in-law for this Daughter-in-Law. Moreover, this film contains the exact dose of “ethno”, which makes films original, exotic, but not “national”: it is precisely the kind of film I’d advise anyone who’d like to get acquainted with Kazakh cinema to watch. It is a great opportunity if the lack of dialogue is no obstacle in the observation, as the silent film makes it hard on the viewer’s visual perception.

Sunrise over Lake Van deals with one of the greatest human tragedies, the Armenian genocide. This theme certainly deserves new approaches, but vigilance is something of no less importance. From this point of view, Sunrise is a great try. For Armenia, the genocide is an issue awaiting its solution and evaluation not only on the political field, but also in arts and among the youngest generation of Armenians, who seem to forget what has been the most important thing for their ancestors. Maybe therefore the actors from the older generation, represented by the memorable Karen Jangiryan in the role of Garabed, are incomparably good. But a sunrise over the issue of the genocide is still being awaited.

Ebrahim Saeedi’s Mandoo could be considered not only a sample of artistic cinema which raises a regionally acute problem: the war in Iraq and its consequences, but also the extermination of entire nations. Some episodes cannot avoid being seen as too pathetic, even histrionic. But the way Saeedi applied himself to the artistic side compensates what may be seen wrong from other: namely his film is totally different from all other films of this festival in the way in which he uses the camera as a substitute for a disabled elderly character, generally imitating the perspective of a sick and old man. It generally resembles the conditionality we find in Islamic film tradition where the Prophet is never shown; instead the camera works for Him. It is so much appreciated when the camera has a job of its own in cinema.