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Ararat | Review

Mountain of Truth

Film offers the past in present day form.

Much like Steven Spielberg did with Schlinder’s List, Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan embarks on a personal journey of his own- an ambitious project about the Armenian genocide-a massacre with causalities of over 1.5 million people. Adolf Hitler used the example of the Armenian genocide as a blueprint for his extermination of Jews saying that “nobody remembers them”. Recollecting the people and the historical events that took place in 1915 is the film’s pretext conjoined to tackling the issue of denial,-a matter that the Turkish government refuses to acknowledge and a subject that encompasses most of the film’s characters. Egoyan’s unique approach of a film within a film format from a contemporary viewpoint is perhaps a harder task than if he would have simply choose to depict the wars atrocities with that one dramatic courageous story as the core of a possible film, instead Ararat- the titled coming from Mt. Ararat that saw the horrendous bloodshed, is a film about how surviving Armenians and the subsequent generations look back at their history and how it affects them in the present day. While providing a full history lesson for non-Armenians like myself, Egoyan challenges his viewers with a more than overstuffed subplot arrangement.

Among Ararat’s many stories is the account of a film production with filmmakers Edward (Charles Aznavour-Shoot the Piano Player) and Rouben (Eric Bogosian-Talk Radio) that depicts the Siege of Van which also includes the description of an American doctor’s heroics of Clarence Ussher (Bruce Greenwood-Thirteen Days) and then there is these clashes inside family units-one of a mother (Arsinee Khanjian-Felicia’s Journey) who must deal with her very angry step-daughter Celia (Marie-Josee Croze- Maelstrom) and a delinquent son Raffi (David Alpay) and an another that sees a gay couple (Elias Koteas-The Thin Red Line) and (Brent Carver-The Legend of Sleepy Hollow) at odds with a retirement-bound father (Christopher Plummer-The Insider). The stories are cut into another set of pieces such as the story of an artist who can’t complete a portrait and who can’t bare the sense of loss-a theme that also occurs within the plight of a couple of the film’s other characters and then there is this Canadian customs interrogation sequence that inter-titles throughout the picture.

The problem with such a large menu of subplots is that there are few moments that resonate with the viewer-a scene that sees a painter and his life’s work doesn’t carry the emotional load to make us care. Another difficulty I found with this film is that there are too many characters who come across as fractional figures seemingly portrayed in these complex personas but without the necessary elaborated detail. Egoyan ensembles a fine cast here, but interesting characters and their conflicts such as Celia, Edward or Ali who merit more attention- are simply not developed enough. It takes patience to sit through Ararat, the lack of emotional appeal combined with Egoyan’s play it safe-sticking to facts approach makes this experience sub-par to his last two features of the brilliant The Sweet Hereafter and the under-appreciated Felicia’s Journey. As a filmmaker and storyteller he is among the best, but Ararat one of my most anticipated films to see in 2002 is a good film, unfortunately it is not a “must see” film.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist and critic at (founded in 2000). Eric is a regular at Sundance, Cannes and TIFF. He has a BFA in Film Studies at the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013 he served as a Narrative Competition Jury Member at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson's This Teacher (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022 he served as a New Flesh Comp for Best First Feature at the 2022 Fantasia Intl. Film Festival. Current top films for 2022 include Tár (Todd Field), All That Breathes (Shaunak Sen), Aftersun (Charlotte Wells).

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