SEE Magazine: Issue #472: December 12, 2002
A different dynamic is shaping up in representations of
the Armenian Genocide. Until Ararat, the only sustained cinematic
engagement with this moment that I knew of were Don Askarianís films.
Askarian, working in Berlin Ė he was exiled in the í70s, after spending
time in jail in Soviet Armenia Ė has made films where the Genocide was
always vaguely present. But while his films canít get away from the
events, they canít quite evoke them either. The most haunting moment in
Komitas (1988) comes when we see an image of a mysterious figure wandering
the countryside with a flame-thrower; you know whatís going on, even if
you never really see it. His 1992 film Avetik is filled with images of an
exiled filmmaker sitting in his Berlin apartment, projecting film onto his
face, looking haunted.
Thereís a similar tension at work in Ararat, which seldom visualises the
Genocide that is ostensibly its topic; he only places moments of violence
in scenes from the epic film-within-the-film. This need to shield yourself
from the horror and from the fear of blaspheming the horror with
meta-cinematic flourishes, is something Egoyan shares with Askarian. While
the former is much more narrative and the latter much more avant garde,
they both need to represent, to visualise, at the same time that they need
to back away.
Their films are conflicted, but I donít get the sense that the conflict
short-circuits attempts at interpretation in the same way as in Hitler:
Film from Germany or Schindlerís List. When I consider the formal
strategies of Syberberg and Spielberg, I mostly sense frustration; when I
consider the strategies of Egoyan and Askarian, I sense cautious hope.
Jerry White is Assistant Professor of Film Studies at the University of
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