My Sweet Land


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

My Sweet Land
"Hairabedian patiently captures all this with an intimacy that stems from trust, with Vrej viewing her and the camera increasingly as a confidante as time passes." | Photo: HAI Creative LLC/Sister Productions/Solisiu Films

Documentarian Sareen Hairabedian offers a child's eye view of the conflict with Azerbaijan in the former Republic of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh) in eastern Armenia that has flared, off and on, for decades. Like Daniel Kötter's Landshaft last year, the film benefits from coming at the issue from an oblique angle, exploring the constant state of stress felt by families trying to live their lives in a potential warzone.

At its heart is Vrej, just nine years old when the Jordanian-Armenian filmmaker begins to follow his story. He's the child of one of 700 couples who we see getting married at a mass wedding in 2008 in archive footage. As they take their vows, they are instructed, "Have children, populate the country and own it."

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The last part is tricky in a parcel of land that is hotly disputed since the fracturing of the former Soviet Union, as someone puts it, it is "a country where war is expected to start at any moment". We see Vrej buzzing about his village, full of life and dreaming of becoming a dentist and owning a homing pigeon. This encounter is only fleeting but it acts as a reminder that no matter what the human instinct to the contrary, sometimes it's impossible to return.

Childhood is a luxury that kids in warzones can scarcely afford and Vrej quickly comes to realise just how precarious the present situation is, with his father heading to war and the rest of the family heading for sanctuary. There's a sense of the conflict bleeding into every area of family life. Vrej's mother and grandmother look tired and worn as they celebrate a birthday, while even the youngest sing along to pop songs with lyrics including, "Don't be scared or worried, my mother, I am going to war".

"Isn't that nice?" says Vrej as he changes his phone background to a photo of a soldier on the frontline.

The military drip down isn't just casual but overt, as we see a soldier talk about the kids being taken to "kindergarten for the Army", or a teacher schooling them in how to spot a landmine. Hairabedian patiently captures all this with an intimacy that stems from trust, with Vrej viewing her and the camera increasingly as a confidante as time passes. A film that gathers emotional heft as it goes and we watch Vrej grow into an increasingly uncertain future and realise the fragility of his own mortality.

Reviewed on: 14 Jun 2024
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For 11-year-old Vrej, life in his homeland Artsakh is like a paradise, but when war starts again, can he carry a nation’s hopes on his young shoulders?

Director: Sareen Hairabedian

Writer: Sareen Hairabedian

Year: 2024

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Ireland, France, Jordan, US


Doc/Fest 2024

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