Protected by the cinema

Nora Martirosyan on traditions and uncanny doubling with the present in Should The Wind Drop

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan), the magic water boy with Armen (Vartan Petrossian) in Armenia’s Oscar submission, Nora Martirosyan’s Should The Wind Drop (Si Le Vent Tombe)
Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan), the magic water boy with Armen (Vartan Petrossian) in Armenia’s Oscar submission, Nora Martirosyan’s Should The Wind Drop (Si Le Vent Tombe)

Last week the 94th Academy Awards Oscar Best International Feature Film shortlist was revealed with some notable omissions. Levan Koguashvili's Brighton 4th from Georgia; Julia Ducournau’s Titane from France; Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria from Colombia; Zhang Yimou’s Cliff Walkers from China; Kira Kovalenko’s Unclenching The Fists from Russia, and Nora Martirosyan’s Should The Wind Drop (Si Le Vent Tombe) from Armenia were among those.

Grégoire Colin as Alain Delage, an international auditor sent to inspect the remote airport of an independent republic in the Caucasus mountains.
Grégoire Colin as Alain Delage, an international auditor sent to inspect the remote airport of an independent republic in the Caucasus mountains.

In the second instalment with the director on her debut feature, screenplay with Emmanuelle Pagano (co-writers Guillaume André and Olivier Torres), and produced by Annabella Nezri (Kaouther Ben Hania’s 2021 Oscar-nominated submission from Tunisia, The Man Who Sold His Skin), Julie Paratian, and Ani Vorskanyan, we discuss Atom Egoyan’s support early on for Should The Wind Drop, the traditions and uncanny doubling with the present, a film to tell a country, balancing modernity, protecting memory, not coming from nowhere, the Armenian open wound, nothing sacred, a panda on the onesie, lifting off with an ending and the situation now.

From Montpellier, France, Nora Martirosyan joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Should The Wind Drop.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You play with traditions when the kids throw water at the car and the driver says “Oh, this is an old Armenian tradition!” Later on the driver talks about “snipers shooting at cars every once in a while.” There is an interesting doubling between old customs, the military, and the present. It’s almost uncanny when you think about what happened in the region last year.

Nora Martirosyan: Yes, the aim of the film was to tell the country. And you tell the country through a present but also through what constructed this country. In fact, I tried to make this kind of a balance, between what, as you said, can be called a tradition, not trying to push it too much, you know, just mentioning it, and what is the factual reality of the country. It was also very important for me to be in something modern.

Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan) has a sale from a very thirsty road worker (Arthur Hayrapetyan)
Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan) has a sale from a very thirsty road worker (Arthur Hayrapetyan)

Even if Nagorno-Karabakh is not recognised, even if it is the end of the world, in fact they have the new versions of iPhones and the girls wear miniskirts and they are as informed as you or I. Even though it is cut from the world, it happens now. It doesn’t happen two centuries ago, it happens now. Trying to find this balance between the modernity, the traditions, the war, the closeness - the whole film is this kind of balancing and sometimes I’m not very at ease, but sometimes it functions well.

AKT: I think because you go in so many directions, it is a wonderful balance. You have the head of the airport [Korune Androssian, played by David Hakobyan] speaking about the genocide, I think he mentions being the grandson of orphans of the genocide. He says he came back to protect the memory. Was that part of your thinking for the film, to protect memory?

NM: Back then when we were shooting or I was writing, I didn’t imagine what would happen and that this place really needs to be protected by the cinema. At that moment I hoped for cinematic recognition of the spaces. To answer your question, I think we don’t come from nowhere. We always come from somewhere and sometimes we are happy to forget about it. And I think for Armenians it’s very complicated to forget where they are coming from, because there was no medicament put on this wound. It is an open wound. Yes, it’s something they do carry inside of them, at the same time it doesn’t stop them from getting drunk or saying stupid things.

Television reporter Karinée (Narine Grigoryan) on the scene
Television reporter Karinée (Narine Grigoryan) on the scene

There’s nothing sacred about this genocide stuff, it’s just a story which is theirs. Once again it was this kind of balancing, not to make it too much of a melodrama. Because this director of the airport he’s trying to bullshit poor Alain [Grégoire Colin] from the beginning to the end. At the same time he’s caring and you have sympathy with him. The world is not black and white, that’s what I was trying to show.

AKT: I also loved the moment when Alain is buying the onesie with a panda on it for the newborn. An animal in danger of extinction, as if with this gift he also wants to say, I don’t want you to be extinct! A very telling question, addressed to Alain, is “You never played war with a gun as a child?” His response is “Of course not!” This shows the divide so perfectly between people who grew up in a war zone or an area like this and people who didn’t and have never experienced what that means.

NM: This is also in some sense my position. You know, I live in this secure place, which is France.

AKT: You are in Paris?

NM: In Montpellier, I live in the South of France. At the same time I grew up there, I went through the Perestroika, the earthquake, and then the war. I teach here in France and recently there was a student of mine who was making an art project around guns, pistols, and I told him “Have you ever seen a real pistol? Have you ever held in your hands a real pistol?” Because it’s something very particular.

Nora Martirosyan on the Nagorno-Karabakh area and the territory of Armenia: “Back then when we were shooting or I was writing, I didn’t imagine what would happen and that this place really needs to be protected by the cinema.”
Nora Martirosyan on the Nagorno-Karabakh area and the territory of Armenia: “Back then when we were shooting or I was writing, I didn’t imagine what would happen and that this place really needs to be protected by the cinema.”

In fact, this is an object, not like a knife or a hammer, this is an object which is made to kill. If you have never felt the proximity of a tank and the proximity of a tank that can point at you, you would never understand it. There are no words and there is no cinema that can tell about it. As you say, the division is very strong, they are very far away from each other.

AKT: The day before I spoke with Atom Egoyan about his upcoming Bluebeard opera. I noticed he gets a thanks in your end credits. What was your connection to Atom?

NM: Recently we did a Q&A together and he was wonderful talking about the film. I met him in Armenia in the beginning of my idea of making the film. I had this idea, but I wasn’t a filmmaker and I didn’t know where to start from. We met and I showed him my short films and he was extremely enthusiastic and generous. Through these eleven years I knew that he’s there to advise and watch things that I show to him. And he was the first one, I think in the world, who congratulated me with the Cannes selection [in 2020].

AKT: That’s him! That’s great. What do you teach, by the way?

NM: I teach in an art school cinema and video.

AKT: One question about the ending of your film, which is a terrific lift-off. Did you always know that you would end it in this beautiful way?

NM: The first time I went to the airport and I was able to drive through the runway with a car, I asked my cameraman to make this movement. I had the scene before I had the scenario. In fact, I was writing the scenario to get to this point and to make this elevation.

Should The Wind Drop poster
Should The Wind Drop poster

AKT: What is the situation there at the moment in December 2021?

NM: It is extremely unstable and not only in Nagorno-Karabakh area but also on the territory of Armenia. There are attacks, snipers, and provocations all the time. In some sense the war is not over, now it’s driving into this Turkey, Ukraine, Russia stuff and Iran.

Armenia is so small, the big armies they will just cross this country without asking themselves what they put their foot on. So it’s very unstable and very dangerous and a very sad situation because the international community as usual looks in a different direction.

AKT: It’s always about what is seen and what isn’t. What matters and what doesn’t. Your film shows it so well, and we are so grateful that we have it.

NM: Thank you so much!

Read what Nora Martirosyan had to say on how through cinema the “paradox of this place can be told”, the Armenians of Karabakh’s sense of humour, magical water, and the question at the centre of Should The Wind Drop.

The final five nominees are scheduled to be announced on February 8, 2022. The 94th Academy Awards ceremony originally scheduled for Sunday, February 27 will be held on Sunday, March 27, 2022 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

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