The duality of images in the Apricot Stone Competition

English Daily #2
“An image is like a trace,” says an Armenian woman in Dessil Mekhtigian’s From the Work of the Devil, as she’s working on a photo exhibition of an old Armenian photographer in Cairo. “If no one sees it, it doesn’t exist.” That already could be a perfect description of the current state of Armenian cinema, that is ever involved in trying to convey the cascade of conflicts that have tested the spirit and resilience of the country. The woman in Mekhtigian’s film also reflects on the inherent duality every image contains: “it either freezes us in time or shows us the way.”

Taken as a whole, this year’s selection of shorts in the Apricot Stone competition section does exactly those two things: freezing Armenia in time, and showing the way forward. Take Edgar Sargsyan’s Pathways, for instance, a documentary portrayal of three boys in the Shamut village of the Lori region. While aware of what’s happening in the world around them, these boys are stuck in time and space, venturing outside of the village over unpaved roads, surrounded only by mountainous vistas. They long for progress, for developments, for growth, but they also realize the costs that come with it. “If there was asphalt, it would be a straight line,” one boy beautifully observes about what change also means in this world.

Many of the stories in this competition deal with lonesome children, suggesting that they too are at risk of freezing in time. Equation with Two Variables (Lusine Papoyan) sees a poverty-stricken boy selling wares in a train chugging through the Armenian landscape. Avt'une by Anie Grigorian contrasts the rich imagination of a young Ezidi boy with his isolating surroundings. “Everything is the same, nothing changes, nothing is new,” he remarks. Even Armine Anda’s The Song of Flying Leaves, the only animation film in the section, sees an astray girl in a forest after her escape from an orphanage.

How brittle a childs’ view on the world can be, is explored in 250 km by Hasmik Movsisyan, which restages a refugee narrative right at the beginning of the Second Artsakh War. In the film, lead actor Vahe Sargsyan actually restages his own story, in which he drives his family to safety. While the film is often impressively staged and acted, the idea of asking war survivors to re-perform their perilous flight so soon after it occurred does raise moral questions about the way we see the relationship between cinema and reality. In that sense, Stones is a less ambiguous entry-point in capturing what was at stake during the 2020 war. Arman Ayvazyan’s film is a kind of documentary-cum-heist movie that sees a group of Armenian volunteers venturing into Azerbaijani-controlled territory to safely extract ancient Armenian stone inscriptions known as khachkars from the premises. The verité-style cinematography conveys that not only people, but also historical artifacts can become victims of war.

Only a few films offer some sort of escape from the stories that haunt Armenia right now. And one of those is actually a post-apocalyptic story called Emptiness (directed by Tigran Aghajanyan), a moody genre-piece that, again, emphasizes the loneliness and isolation of its protagonist. Just when you think that all Armenian film characters have to struggle through life, you see Michael Aloyan’s handsomely filmed Carnivore, in which rich Armenians are living the American dream. and yet, Aloyan is here to show us that even in the comfort of prosperity and peace, tragedy can lie around the corner. Still, not all hope is lost. “One weather will follow another,” says the Ezidi boy in Avt'une, as if he could anticipate the beautiful rainbow captured at the end of Stones. In Ophelia Harutyunyan’s It Takes a Village... this hopeful note is embodied by the birth of a new child, marking the dawn of a new day.

Hugo Emmerzael