Apricot Stone program: Microscopic treasures

English Daily #2
It’s fascinating to see the main narratives that keep Armenia in its grasp refracted through the lenses of a wide variety of filmmakers. As such, the screening of short films in the Apricot Stone competition is one of the most important events during GAIFF, something that almost demands to be seen.

It goes without saying that the Nagorno-Karabakh war and the forced eviction of thousands of Artsakh’s inhabitants becomes a shared topicality for most of these films. In Hrant Varzhapetyan’s Home, the conflict becomes painfully tangible when a young boy is mentally preparing to go to war, turning the film into a psychological nightmare impressively consolidated by especially one image: the young boy reflected in the screen of an old television set, while images of the battlefield are engulfing him in flames.

Lumen Naturae shows the aftermath of sending young men into armed conflict, by exploring a family dealing with the death of a soldier. Much like Shoghakat Vardanyan’s intimate documentary 1489, albeit in fictional form, director Arthur Sukiasyan also hones in on what this loss does with a sister. Coincidentally, in both films the women cut of their long hair in an attempt to visually connect with the brother they mourn. Meanwhile, Ovsanna Gevorgyan takes a more reflexive turn by centering Headless Horsemen’s pained narrative around the act of looking to raw war footage, in the hope that a loved one can be recognized in the violent imagery. Tension arises her from the stark framing, imbued by a hyperfocus on physicality and touch. Another stand-out in this section is Armat, by Anna Mkrtumyan who originally hails from Artsakh. Mkrtumyan investigates what souvenirs are worth bringing along, when the frenzy of war forces you out of your home. A beautiful phone conversation with her grandmother reveals how Mkrtumyan’s family was torn over which photos to bring, and which not. In a fascinating modal switch, Armat then begins to investigate what Mkrtumyan had brought along from Artsakh: fossilized exoskeletons found in the region that transform into personal treasures under a microscope.

Even films that are seemingly not about Artsakh can be about Artsakh. Point in case is Margos Margossian’s No Light / No Darkness, a fascinating foray into genre filmmaking that makes a kind of Eastern noir out of the energy crisis after the 1988 Spitak earthquake, and the following closure of the Armenian powerplant that powers about half of the country. For Margossian, this stunningly shot geopolitical thriller is a testament to the people who have been cut off from resources and electricity by Azeri forces in last years. Mary Danielyan’s The Owl also seems even more separated from politics at first, but turns out to be a careful study of a man slowly brought on the verge of insanity due to the arrested development brought along by the war.

Exaggerated stylistic traits also find their way into Burden by Gevorg Nersesyan, a film that almost starts out as a Coen brothers-like film about comedic errors and painful misunderstandings, but gradually shifts into a more mournful tone as the skillfully shot melodrama progresses. Similar interrogations of domestic bliss, and the lack therof, are explored in the absurdist rage agains society of The Egg (Vahan Grigoryan) and the couples roleplay adventures of Seagulls (Lilit Movsisyan). Two other stand-outs remain for very separate reasons. There’s Marika Dovlatbekyan and Koryun Arzumanyan’s heartfelt and twee documentary Nvard Won’t Come Today? that provides such a loving gaze on children in pedagogical-psychological support center in Yerevan. Then there’s a little masterpiece in the form of Cumulus Clouds, the latest short film by the Armenian animation maestro Naira Muradyan that doubles both as a cinematic massage for the brain and a delightful ode to the riches of film history.

Hugo Emmerzael