Notes on Yerevan: GAIFF Critics Workshop

English Daily #3
Dear Forrest,

As a citizen from Georgia, Armenia’s neighbor, I spent my bus ride to Yerevan wondering why I’d never crossed the border before, even as I’ve traveled to Europe a few times already. In a way, I was reminded of how the roads of so many African countries all lead to the ocean, so as to facilitate the shipment of natural resources to the colonial powers that have long exploited them. Traveling to Armenia from Georgia isn’t hard or expensive, and we have various ways to get here. But the difficulty might well be a cultural thing. As the Cold War ended and tensions between post-Soviet countries escalated, nations that had long shared the same values suddenly were suddenly at odds with each other. Even the most renowned Armenian director, Georgian-born Sergei Parajanov, drew from the larger Caucasian region for his magical cinema, and as I roamed the streets of Yerevan, the city looked as multicultural and eclectic as the director’s own films.

One of the films that left me absolutely flabbergasted was Lisandro Alonso’s latest, Eureka, a metaphysical odyssey through space and time, discourses and narratives, history and meta-history. The film kicks off as a black-and-white Western, only to pull the curtain and reveal that as a film within the film screening in the living room of an Oglala Sioux family headquartered in South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation. Western tropes return time and time again in Eureka, but they do so in a way that’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. I don't know how familiar you are with Alonso’s filmography, but Eureka is undoubtedly his most extensive and ambitious picture to date. Split into three parts, the film unfolds as an anthology film, though everything within it is connected in a peculiar way. Once the Western preamble ends, the film dips into a Neo-Noir terrain, before an otherworldly journey across the continent catapults us to the Brazilian jungle in the 1970s.

I was also genuinely impressed by Daniel Kötter’s Landshaft (2023), a film that poetically explores the 2020 conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Karabakh. The director travels along the border between the two countries, and the film follows people who suffered first-hand from the war. With its meditative pacing and observational flair, the film’s landscapes and camerawork reminded me of another legendary filmmaker from the region, Abbas Kiarostami.

Both Eureka and Landshaft embrace an anthropomorphic approach, which brought me back to film theoretician Béla Balázs's concept of the face of things: the idea that cinema not only shows us the visible face of humans, but also animals, landscapes, and objects. Alonso and Kötter’s films—with their emphasis on magical animals, flora, and inanimate objects—are similarly attuned to the power of images over words.

Over to you,