Atom Egoyan’s 2002 film, Ararat, met with very mixed reviews and a less-than-enthusiastic push by its distributors, Miramax. The film didn’t play in Asheville, which was understandable to some degree — not so much because the topic of the film is a volatile one, but because the film is so heavily layered in its construction and in the themes it explores that it can be viewed as needlessly convoluted and too deliberately difficult. In fact, a number of reviewers found it to be so.
Frankly, I think Ararat verges on the brilliant and is a much more interesting work than Egoyan’s admirable but over-praised The Sweet Hereafter.
Yes, the subject matter is heavy: Turkey’s genocide against its Armenian population in 1915 (an event the Turkish government still has not admitted to). It’s also personal: Egoyan and quite a few of his collaborators on this film — Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Arsinee Khanijan (Egoyan’s wife) — are of Armenian descent.
Rather than simply telling the story, Egoyan chooses to tell the reasons behind telling it. He presents the historical story as a film being made by an Armenian filmmaker (Aznavour) in Canada, connecting the present to the past and the effects of the past on the present. Characters from the film story cross over into the story of the film’s making, yielding a sense of connectivity that’s almost tangible.
Egoyan’s point has as much to do with why he needed to make the film and how this part of history impacts the world even today. It’s challenging and ambitious, but it’s also richly compelling and thought-provoking. Rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity and language.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke