Eyes Directed To The World

in 20th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival

by Anush Vardanyan

Anush Vardanyan considers the Golden Apricot to be a wonderful tool for peering into the world, one that is hidden from everyday life. With choice examples from the Regional Panorama program, Armenian life is uncovered from within and from the outside.

In a world where traditional public journalism has almost given way to clickable statements on social networks, any expert opinion can be questioned. Nevertheless, the task of the critic is to preserve critical thinking. It’s difficult, especially when it comes to your country. The Golden Apricot Festival is an important cultural event for little Armenia, a country with an unhappy and difficult fate. However, there are no others in the post-Soviet space.

The Golden Apricot festival  performs several functions at once. Thanks to this film forum, Armenia itself is actually integrated into the general cinematographic stream; the Armenian International Film Festival produces a kind of gathering, recruiting cultural ambassadors for Armenia – people, leaders of intellectual opinions who have discovered this country of the global south; and last, and perhaps most important, is the discovery by Armenia of new socio-cultural narratives.

The regional program of the festival, which I had a chance to watch and evaluate, clearly shows a gap between the discourse of the ‘big world’ and the themes that the cinema of the host country of the festival lives by. And this last circumstance makes the situation unique. The winner of the Regional Panorama award, Mehran Tamadon, in his film My Worst Enemy, explores the phenomenon of violence as a chain of interrelated psychological traumas. Each of us carries a bomb of violence that threatens to explode at any moment. Abbas Amini, in his Endless Borders, scatters in the plot of the film several keys to understanding the pain points of the modern East with its complex way of life, political and military contradictions and dangers. Notes On Displacement, directed by Khaled Jarrar, is a bold, on the verge of despair, experiment in the field of documentary cinema, when the creators’ camera is embedded in real and very dramatic events – the campaign of a huge number of migrants from Syria to Europe. Each of these different films (feature, documentary and multi-genre) tells a story about people and through people, faithfully following the precepts of storytelling – the key to the success of a work of art is an interesting protagonist in unusual circumstances. All of these directors are trying to push the boundaries of the usual perception of a particular problem under study. The role of women in modern society is of interest to almost everyone represented in the program of cinematographers and as a result we see unique audio-visual worlds in which the heroines have the opportunity to choose. Q – is one of the most difficult films shown at the festival. It is phenomenal in its own way, because it tells about the unimaginable (for today) intimate choice of women in the family of director Jude Chehab – between earthly and divine love. I would also like to mention the film Magic Mountain, a joint project of young Georgian and Polish filmmakers. Clearly appealing to Thomas Mann’s book of the same name, the film (as well as the book) tells about a tuberculosis sanatorium lost in the picturesque wooded mountains. However, unlike the characters in the book, the characters in the film are mostly former prison inmates. Mariam Chachia – one of the directors of the film, having contracted tuberculosis, falls into this strange and disintegrating world and captures the deconstruction of the post-Soviet society, both figuratively and literally – in the finale of the film, the clinic building collapses. I must say that the film by Mariam Chachia and Nik Voigt is one of the strongest statements about the collapse of the ’old world’ and that instead of the ’old’ that has outlived itself and disappeared, a ’new beautiful world’ does not necessarily come.

Two films about Armenia were presented in the Regional Panorama – Far From Michigan, directed by Silva Khnkanosian (co-produced by Armenia and France), and Landshaft, directed by Daniel Kötter (produced by Germany and Armenia). Both films directly touch upon the topic of the Armenian-Azerbaijani military and political confrontation lasting more than 30 years. In 2020, after the defeat in the next acute phase of the war, the Armenian population was forced to leave the territories previously captured from Azerbaijan. This tangle can be unwound indefinitely, and it definitely has nothing to do with cinema. I wouldn’t have had it if the theme of regret, national despair and obvious resentment didn’t run through all the Armenian films presented at the festival – not only in the Regional Panorama, but also in the Apricot Stone program – short films by young Armenian filmmakers. And this, in my opinion, is the biggest problem of modern Armenian cinema – the idea of its heroes as innocent and passive victims of some centuries-old violence. But cinema is the territory of working with internal injuries, these are multiple scenarios for getting out of crisis situations.

Daniel Kötter in his complex and sensual film considers the landscape as the universal equivalent of being. People on the background of fascinating landscapes look like temporary tenants of housing. Nature keeps a complete indifference to our human dramas, to our ideas of justice. Majestic mountains have been standing here for hundreds of thousands of years, the sun rises above them and sets from the beginning of time. It was empty here, it was crowded here, they spoke in human and animal languages. And if today’s people suddenly kill each other in a merciless war, the mountains will continue to stand here and live.

The Golden Apricot, like any international film festival, is a wonderful tool for peering into the world, into a world that is hidden from everyday life, into a world that opens only to a curious researcher with open eyes and heart.


Anush Vardanyan
Edited by Steven Yates