February 21, 2005
On rewatching Ararat...


I almost apologize for the harshness of my initial assessment. I still think it's an uninvolving and convoluted failure but because I'm able to fast-forward through the stuff that's too excruciating to endure again, I have a clearer sense of where the film's trying to go, and the intention is clearly remarkable. Egoyan loves dialogue like, "I don't need a story to make me believe something," or "I'm suspicious of anything that tries to make me feel anyway at all," and he could have gotten away with more of this discoursing (which, because I'm turning Japanese, I will from now on refer to as kouwaing) if only the story wasn't so bloated with coincidence and expository takes on the nature of verisimilitude that are themselves rich with too much self-reflexive verisimilitude when really, unless you went to art school and crossed over, do you really care about verisimilitude at all? Is the demographic of this movie Emily Carr students or human beings?
There are some very odious mistakes such as casting Bruce Greenwood in two roles - as both a security guard who works in a gallery where Gorky's exhibit is showing and also as an actor-- this is sort of like Achilles lamenting his break up with Jennifer Aniston while building the horse of Troy in the image of the 22 year old supermodel he's about to start dating. Marie Jose Croze is totally extraneous also. There are about ten too many coincidences and because it's fresh in my mind I want to articulate them, if I can, though there are so many it's difficult to know where to start. Perhaps here: A customs official with a gay son - no problem. The official spends the film interrogating a kid named Raffi who has just flown in from Armenia - no problem. Raffi claims he was shooting location footage for a film about Armenian genocide otherwise shot on a backlot in Toronto - no problem. But when it gets to the point where the custom official's gay son works in a gallery featuring an Armenian artist, and lives with a guy who gets a part in the Armenian movie playing Jevdet Bey, no worky. Armenian genocide, if we're being true to life, is not something that gets that much attention. When it gets to the point where Jevdet is on set with the actor playing his lover, even though his lover is now just an "actor" playing an American medic in Armenia you find yourself shrieking: Just cast someone else! My disbelief requires more than gold plated suspenders to buy into any of this, which is surely the point, but the result, which Egoyan might act like he intended, is Egoyan with his pants around his ankles, and all he can say in his defence is that he intended it that way, because he likes to be pretentious - and suspicious of something that tries to make us feel one way or the other. Fine. But this is a film that should feel more confidently entitled to its agenda and get over it already, indeed, its agenda is its most notable attribute. There's no question the Turks commited atrocities, and there's no question their government's shamelessly involved in covering it up. The power-house scene at the film's conclusion, where the gay actor dating the customs official's son faces off with our protagonist, Raffi, would have been a lot more powerful if the audience wasn't involved in unravelling all the contrivances which, if you were me anyway, would sound something like: okay, so wait a sec, this gay guy playing Jevdet Bey is dating someone whose disapproving father spent all day interrogating this kid and now they end up in a car together driving home from a movie that was finished shooting when the kid was in the airport because he called his mom and she was on her way to the premiere - so now this is all happening before everything we've seen even though it's somehow our end-point? Then you shriek: No worky!! Irony is effective when it dawns on you, not when you must strain your brain into mad contortions to decode it. Remove that whole interconnected web, get rid of Celia, and just play the scene out between strangers-- it's way more compelling. Give Eric Bogosian - one of the greatest actors ever to appear in a Canadian film - something to do, and the film becomes a lot more compelling, as you don't sense how dismayed he is by the under-development of his character.
In the DVD extras section, the cast and crew are asked about how important Ararat is as a movie and not surprisingly they all agree it's important. Also not surprisingly, none of them have seen the film when they say this. Given the subject matter, there's no question the potential for importance is great. This is a movie Turkey has to deal with. If only it wasn't so tempting to dismiss.

Posted by ÿ at February 21, 2005 03:07 PM
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