Ararat (2002)

reviewed by
Mark R. Leeper

                (a film review by Mark R. Leeper)
     CAPSULE: Atom Egoyan tries to make a film that
     is both one of his puzzle films and at the same
     time is about the Armenian holocaust.  The film
     simply doesn't work.  It is incoherent, confusing,
     and in places absurd.  This is a real
     disappointment from a good filmmaker.  Rating: 4
     (0 to 10), 0 (-4 to +4)

Atom Egoyan's ARARAT is a film aimed at reminding the world of atrocities against Armenians in pre-Ataturk Turkey. Let me say at the outset that I am not knowledgeable enough to meaningfully endorse either side's point of view on this chapter of history. I like both peoples and will not take sides. I will not consider the degree of truth of the political statement this film makes in my review. I will say however that somewhere buried in ARARAT is a heartfelt statement, but it does not do much good for either side of the conflict. I very much liked Egoyan's EXOTICA, THE SWEET HEREAFTER, and FELICIA'S JOURNEY and am much surprised to find Egoyan's film on a subject so near to his heart so jumbled and confused.

In ARARAT, a film is being shot about the Turkish offensive in an Armenian province in 1915. Meanwhile one man, Raffi, goes to Turkey to shoot some footage for the film. He is in love with his unrelated stepsister. The stepsister has serious issues with their mutual mother, who is a historical advisor on the film. A customs officer (Christopher Plummer) stops Raffi on the way back to Toronto. The customs officer has his own problems with his son and his son's male lover. Raffi tells the customs officer the story of the movie, which we see recreated as both the original incidents and scenes in the movie being shot. A half-Turk in the film playing a Turkish officer has doubts about the film's lean toward the Armenian side. By an odd coincidence, he is the lover of the customs officer's son. The customs officer also had previously hassled the film's director. This is just too much coincidence interconnecting characters lives.

This is easily the most convoluted and complex plot I have seen in a film for many years. One can only speculate why Egoyan would embed his story of the Armenian resistance so deeply in this plate of story-line spaghetti. If the individual plot lines added substantially to the tale of the holocaust it would be more understandable, but beyond saying that the past still hangs over present-day Armenians, this part of the story is more distraction.

The telling is muddled and makes it far to difficult to piece together what is happening. This story is pulling in so many directions that Egoyan blunts his real point. Most of this plot is just a distraction from what Egoyan wanted most to say. He would have done far better to make the internal story rather than simply claiming some other fictional director is making it. That just contradicts his (false) statement that the Armenian Holocaust is forgotten. There is no explanation why a Canadian customs officer would interrogate a man entering the country about the Armenian Holocaust, nor why he would argue for the Turkish side. It is just about the most artificial and least believable way to present the history and to present much of it as arguments by "talking heads."

Simply put, ARARAT is a film that does not succeed where a less talented filmmaker could have easily made a film that worked far better. In an introduction Egoyan said that this film was inspired by Istvan Szabo's recent SUNSHINE. That film, however, much more effectively made its points. I think Egoyan experimented with a different style, but the experiment failed. This is a rare instance of a film about the making of a film, where the interior film looks better than the outer one. I rate this ARARAT a 4 on the 0 to 10 scale and a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale.

                                        Mark R. Leeper
                                        Copyright 2002 Mark R. Leeper
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