Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

"The complexity of Egoyan's construction enlightens, rather than confuses. How the pieces fit together is a sleight of cinema."

At the core of Atom Egoyan's multi-layered movie is an atrocity few people know about. Even now, the offspring of the perpetrators deny it ever happened. Raffi (David Alpay) asks the customs officer (Christopher Plummer) in the privacy of an interrogation room, "Do you know what Hitler told his generals to persuade them that his plan would work? 'Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?'"

Rather than resurrect the tragedy in epic form, Egoyan weaves a web of conflicting emotions. Time is tossed around like a frisbee. For every character, there is a connection. For every kiss, there is a suicide.

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The complexity of Egoyan's construction enlightens, rather than confuses. How the pieces fit together is a sleight of cinema. His mastery of the medium enables him to talk directly to the audience, without asphyxiating in a fog of pretentiousness. How he achieves this is a minor miracle.

Raffi is Ani's son. Ani (Arsinee Khanjian) is a University of Toronto lecturer, specialising in history of art. Raffi's girlfriend, Celia (Marie-Josee Croze), is his step-sister, who blames Ani for her father's death. Raffi's father, Ani's second husband, was killed trying to assassinate a Turkish diplomat. Ani gives an illustrated talk on the life and work of the Armenian artist Arshile Gorky, who, as a boy, witnessed the massacre in Van, 1915. Later, in New York, he kills himself.

Raffi has been working on a film, directed by Edward Saroyan (Charles Aznavour), about the incident at Van when Jevdet Bey - played by Ali (Elias Koteas), who lives with the customs officer's son - ordered the genocide of the Armenians in Eastern Turkey. After returning to the area around Mount Ararat to shoot more footage, showing the ruined remains of what was once a thriving community, Raffi is stopped at Canadian customs and asked to explain himself. He is, after all, the son of a terrorist.

Raffi's relationship with his mother is fraught, as is his love affair with Celia. The customs officer's relationship with his son is strained, due to the liaison with Ali. Archile Gorky paints a portrait of his mother in 1934 and the memory of her death haunts him. Martin Harcourt (Bruce Greenwood), a film actor, plays the American doctor in Saroyan's film. He internalises the role and suffers for it, weeping during the premiere.

Ararat is filled with the passion of the denied. The Armenians, living in Turkey, were Turkish, like the Jews in Germany with German. This attempt at their elimination was a political act to protect the border with Russia. Ever since the Turks have refused to accept that such a thing happened. And yet there were witnesses and ruins and bitter memories.

Egoyan's earlier films tended to be cold, deviant and difficult. Not any more. Ararat gathers the sum of its many parts and delivers a scintillating message.

Reviewed on: 17 Apr 2003
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Fictionalised re-examination of the Armenian genocide.
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Director: Atom Egoyan

Writer: Atom Egoyan

Starring: David Alpay, Arsinee Khanjian, Christopher Plummer, Charles Aznavour, Elias Koteas, Brent Carver, Eric Bogosian, Marie-Josee Croze, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Abkarian

Year: 2002

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/France


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