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"Hieroglyphs of Armenia: Films by Don Askarian"

The Harvard Film Archiveís retrospective of Armenian director Don Askarian includes three dense, poetic films. A meditation on the composer monk Komitas and the survival of Armenian culture, Komitas (1988) is a mineralogical work of great rhythmic and thematic intelligence, ravishing in its cyclical orchestrations of space and its undulating long-take expositions of decay and genesis. In Avetik (1992), the camera, obeying a dialectic of weight and drift, makes pilgrimages into holes, tunnels, and suddenly revealed underworlds. The film cuts back and forth between an Armenian filmmakerís Berlin loft and Armenia itself, the latter visualized as both a memory place and a place where disaster has struck. Drawn toward random patterns created by gravity and water flow, the camera frequently lights upon some startling image: clock faces curling in flame, a piano keyboard floating on inky water, a discarded cello bursting open to reveal a honeycomb swarming with bees, a face in a religious fresco toppling to the ground and releasing a cloud of blue dust. The Berlin loft scenes are dominated by Vermeer-esque lighting, images projected on a wall, and sweeping camera movements as trains whoosh past the windows.

On the Old Roman Road (2001) is built on a similar interplay between Armenian village life and images of a modern Western city ó which this time are tied to a tale of political killings in Rotterdam. Askarian builds cloying images that suggest a horrible fairy tale (a manís head unburying itself from a mound of gray rubble, a pig unhampered in its roaming by a small hatchet sticking out of its back), and the cutting smartly keeps shots from closing one another off as narrative. But Askarianís consciously perfunctory treatment of the thriller plot is callous, and he derails the film with a hardcore scene in which an anonymous woman is brought on screen for all of one minute to administer a blow job to a minor character.


Issue Date: January 17 - 24, 2002




Editor's Picks

by Carly Carioli



Armenia has spawned some of the world's most visionary filmmakers, such as the Soviet Sergei Paradjanov and the Canadian Atom Egoyan. A lesser-known but equally noteworthy member of that list is featured this week in the Harvard Film Archive's three-film series "Hieroglyphs of Armenia: Films by Don Askarian." It opens today with Komitas (1988), the story of the Armenian monk/composer whose career ended when he went insane in 1915, partly as a result of the genocide that Turkey inflicted on his people. It screens at 7 p.m. and will be followed by Avetik (1992), a dreamlike fusion of autobiography and history along the lines of Jean Cocteau's Blood of a Poet. It screens at 9 p.m. That's in the Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy Street in Harvard Square. Call (617) 495-4700.