In the early twenties, Armen Nerguizian was the most famous master of ceremonies in Armenia. He was a poet, a master of improvisation and with each lyrical and clever toast; he shared moments of joy and revived the spirit of loved ones. He was known as... The Toastmaster. Nearly a hundred years later Armen's grandson, Uncle Kapriel, maintains the family tradition of the Toastmaster. It is his connection to the past and his cultural roots. He lives as a recluse in Glendale, California with his parrot, sheep and a rooster; all without many relatives in the United States. Uncle Kapriel foresees the visit of his nephew Alek, awaiting his mother's second wedding, as the perfect opportunity to pass on the family tradition. Can Alek conduct his mother's wedding like Kapriel's grandfather, with grace and ease? But Alek has his own agenda for the weekend, and it's not to learn the long-lost art of the toast. Alek wants to make a film about who he believes was the most dangerous man in the ...Written by
Raichawn Amien Flynn
So You Want to Be a Toastmaster? (Or What's da matta, Tamada?)
This review is part of an article published by Asbarez News, written by Bedros Afeyan.
(...) In an astutely observed gem of a movie that tries far less to explain and explore, than to sample and adore, I recommend Toastmaster to you. It is a movie that exposes a culture's inner sanctum and lands on its (cultural) feet, away from the surety of fate that is the Spanish aura, away from the sophistication of Western European traditions, towards the native Armenian male, belonging to no land but a culture, belonging to no police state, no army, no political corruption machine, but to the proposition that our wit is unsurpassed, that our voice is graced by God, that our tone is like the buttery spoils of a virtuosic violin, that our women bewitch us, just through the power of our own thoughts, that they bewilder us, just by the feebleness of those same thoughts, that they beguile us till we turn into guard dogs and pets for them to stroke and to discard, if cruel gods so demand, or take pity on us and inflate our egos some and deflate them far more often, thus rendering us as tough as we may endure to become and still remain poets at heart
Eric Boadella knows the possibility of this life-long dance played out on-screen or off, whether in the school hall, over Armenian coffee and fate/cup readings, or not. Whether in Kapriel himself, or that old towering man's memory banks, or whether in the camera of his agile nephew, young Alek, hiding behind the viewfinder of his hand held, hand-me-down movie camera, laughing at a world with a mere black and white 35mm jest, a bon mot, a caress. They each have an agenda and the most important element of each man's agenda is to ignore the others'! For they are men and they have mountains to climb and seas to cross. Homer is always nearby to record the journey. Except their journey has a muse and an angel. A marvelous stroke of genius, in the guise of a little step sister to Alek, Mariella. She is the bonfire that truly lights up the screen with her innocence and fractious reflections, her bold presence and deflections of the male dance the two must engage in, for they are animals in the wild of another man'a making. It is Mariella that allows us into this scene and shows us that there is a way out.
Some folks get all absorbed in the drama of others. Armenians tend to do this too often. But Mariella is an odar. She is innocence and shrewdness personified. She wants to have fun and to learn and to grow and to sample and to judge, in short, to live. And to live now, today, and not later, when she is thought to be old enough. Between a bull of an uncle, an ex-opera singer, now drinking, cigar smoking, puffing roaring and sleep walking. Before the young, fragile, bespectacled, camera-bound half brother (to be) whose mother will soon many her father and yet, here they are in the home of the wedding-uninvited uncle, learning about the skills and rituals of becoming a toastmaster, with the passing of the traditional horn-shaped wine cup, brought from the old country, the generation to generation bounty of belonging, of being an Armenian in this world of the other, the odar, amidst assimilation leading temptations aplenty.
But of course, you must ask, can one "become" a toastmaster or an Armenian for that matter? Must you not be born that way? Born to become that which is inevitable but that which you can only fathom, if you think you have free will and full say in the matter, and thus fool yourself into submission to this thankless fate?
The answer is always yes. Yes, yes, yes, uncle Kapriel, I will make movies that trivialize you, and trivialize me, and shred away the veils and vagueries that stop us from trusting one another enough to open up and embrace our fears and ignorance-driven uneven keels. But through drink and tradition, wit and exposition, music and the belief in the story surviving through a culture which is less able to control its physical fate than the richness of the stories of that culture itself that lives within us and through us and shines through our eyelids and out our ears into the echo of the world where it is heard in dreams and screams and howls of dead bones and blood spilled for the beast that sees no merit in this tarantella we call Armenian spirit, our stories, our hymns.
Eric Boadella as writer and director, David Hovan as Kapriel, Sevag Mahserejian as the young filmmaker Alek, and the wisdom of an angel packed in a compact serenade, Mariella, played to perfection by Kali Flanagan, is an ensemble to be congratulated for having engulfed a tattering storm of stories and made a quiet poem of it, as bright as daylight and as somber as peaceful night after the toastmaster has said a final, half-serious, goodbye.
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