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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ararat

Starring: David Alpay, Elias Koteas
Director: Atom Egoyan
Rated: R
RunTime: 126 Minutes
Release Date: November 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Christopher Plummer, Eric Bogosian, Charles Aznavour, Brent Carver, Max Morrow, Bruce Greenwood, Arsinee Khanjian

Review by Harvey Karten
3 stars out of 4

Before Hitler's program to exterminate the Jews, the German leader told his skeptical commanding officers, "Who remembers the massacre of Armenians? He was talking about the program by the Ottoman Turkish government to exterminate its Armenian citizens in Eastern Turkey, a program that actually begin at the close of the 19th Century but continued in full, horrendous force in 1915 and shortly thereafter, when one million Armenians were massacred by Turkish troops. There is a likelihood that even if the Turkish government today admitted the role of their predecessors eighty-seven years ago (they deny everything), the public would not become too aroused given the enormous suffering brought on by ethnic cleansing sponsored by insane governments during the 20th century including those of Rwanda and Bosnia and Cambodia. To remedy that situation in part, Atom Egoyan goes back to his own Armenian roots and those of his wife, Arsinee Khanjian, who plays a major role in Egoyan's latest, Canadian-made production.

"Ararat," named for the mountain that is Armenia's leading spiritual symbol and whose presence is felt in the film, is a difficult work, difficult not so much in the sense that it requires a knowledge of history (it really doesn't since the scenes of massacres are self-explanatory) but that it demands careful attention to the flawed relationships at the heart of the story. Directed by Egoyan as a film within a film and moving backwards and forwards as is the Canadian director's wont, "Ararat" bites off more than it can chew. By putting the present-day human relationships in greater importance than the tragic events of 1915- however justifiable in that the present-day affairs can be linked psychologically to the holocaust-Egoyan makes us at once wish that he had concentrated on a full-scale historical film in the manner of other holocaust films this year such as "The Grey Zone," "Amen," and "The Pianist" or that he had dealt purely with a psychological study in the style of his previous wonderful works such as "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Exotica."

Egoyan opens in the present in the home of Philip (Brent Carver) whose father, David (Christopher Plummer) is a customs inspector with whom Philip is having difficulties and regrets the invitation he extended to his dad. David, who at his customs post at the airport has recently admitted an Armenian film director and pomegranate lover Edward Saroyan (Charles Aznavour) to Canada, is about to retire but appears to have considerable time on his hands even while working for his government. Having detained Raffi (David Alpay) on suspicion of carrying drugs in a couple of cans of film, he takes the young man into the back room for interrogation and uses the time to learn about-and give us in the audience-a background to the 1915 massacre.

This is Egoyan's "heaviest" film to date in the sense that there are no words wasted and that each conversation, seemingly banal, carries the weight of its individual's probing for identity, for meaning, for truth about the holocaust and about his or her own life. Included in the cross-cutting between the film-within-a-film are Raffi's mother, Ani (Arsinee Khanjian) a professor of art history who is frequently challenged at her lectures by audience members who differ with her interpretations of the past; Philip's male friend Ali (Elias Koteas), who is half-Turkish, denies that the holocaust ever took place and has gained a major role in Aznavour's film as a sadistic Turkish commander Jevdet Bey; Bruce Greenwood has taken the role of Usher, an artist whose principal painting decades ago is a ten-year work meant to allow us in the present to memorialize the massacre.

Among the performers, the stand-out is that of a pre-med student David Alpay. Alpay performs in the role of a mature young man intent on preserving the memory of the massacre but who is estranged from his mother and has a complex romantic relationship with his stepsister, Celia (Marie-Josee Croze). Alpay's role should put him in good standing when various critics' groups vote their awards for Best Debut Performance,''

Whatever its flaws, "Ararat" deserves to be seen if only because there are few other films dealing with the subject of the murder of a million people who considered themselves Turkish citizens, as loyal to the Ottomans as the Jews were to Germany, and who are shocked that the people who were supposed to protect them turned on them instead.

Copyright 2002 Harvey Karten

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