Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

"The physicality extends past harm to outright comedy."

Charlie is a repatriate, an American with Armenian heritage invited back after the war to help build a nation he left as a child. In difficult circumstances too, years before. The complexities of the Ottoman Empire's genocidal acts are perhaps best explained by a line of dialogue: "I'm a Turk, you have no right touching my things." Given what happens next, that that's the line of objection says much about what (and who) matters to those involved.

It's one of several moments of absurdity, but that itself is a hallmark of authoritarianism. The essence of double-think is not just to hold two competing ideals in one's head but to be able to punish the lack of it. To get you here for not being there, or there for not being here, or if you achieve the beatification-worthy miracle of co-location get you for unauthorised religious practise.

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One of several elements of Armenian repression, that is to say the repression of Armenia by the Soviet apparatus, and of Armenians seeking to be part of it. Through a serious of comic miscommunications Charlie ends up jailed, and it's from here that the film's heart and soul emerge. Charlie has, after a few complicating factors, neighbours. His vicarious relationship with them involves a different kind of fantasy than Goodbye Lenin or The Birdman Of Alcatraz, but the desire to help is still there. In Q&A, writer/director/star Michael Goorjian acknowledged the influence of The Lives Of Others, and that mixture of proximity and remove is (not quite) palpable here.

In one of many neat moments of design, Charlie's cell window overlooks much of an apartment. It is a place of light and warmth, of music and merriment, and how he interacts with its inhabitants is a delight. The Rube Goldberg additions to his own cell as he makes his perch a palace are a treat, but they're a mechanical detail in something that's far more about emotional connections than knots.

It is bleak in places, self-harm depicted in ideation and method. There's violence too, meted out by the state on a timetable. The physicality extends past harm to outright comedy. His jailers often reference Chaplin and our Charlie is indeed a little man in big circumstances. What ties it together is Goorjian's performance, but he's helped by his cast. As Tigran, Hovik Keuchkerian manages to do much at a distance. His evolving relationship with Charlie is a product of what each has to hide. As accidental architects of his fate, Sona (Nelli Uvarova) and Dmitry (Mikhail Trukhin) round out other quadrants of the era's Armenian experience. The web of their relationships is informed in part by the ways in which they interact with the State, with the nation, with each other. It's one of many places where repetition produces results. Through a succession of montages we see parallel progress, continued evolution, and are given the chance to empathise. In Q&A Goorjian talked about being unsure if it would work, but in the edit he has pulled together threads to create something whose fabric warms. He works here with Mike Selemon, who's had editorial input to Rampart and The Adjustment Bureau, both depicting other failing authoritarian regimes in the form of the LAPD and one of Philip K Dick's many reality-distorting short stories.

It charms throughout. I shan't go into details regarding its conclusion or its ending(s) but know that they are satisfying, well earned, a treat. The cell Charlie occupies might be known as the 'icebox', but the film brings a warmth that carries through. That term is more one of temperature than function. This isn't a 'cooler'. The disciplinary processes here are more doughnut based. Bleak, but buoyant, Amerikatsi is an endearing fable of endurance, of connection across and despite curtains, be they net or Iron.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2023
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Amerikatsi packshot
A refugee returning to Armenia after growing up in the US is arrested and sentenced to prison for wearing a tie. When an earthquake ruptures the prison wall, he begins to spy on the couple in the adjacent apartment, gradually forging a connection with a culture he knew nothing about.

Director: Michael A Goorjian

Writer: Michael A Goorjian

Starring: Michael A Goorjian, Hovik Keuchkerian, Nelli Uvarova

Year: 2022

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Armenia


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