Ararat: A Movie Review

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan, the movie Ararat tells the story of a young man whose life was changed while making a film about the Armenian genocide in Turkey during 1915. Over one million Armenians were brutally slaughtered by the Turks on the pretense that they were a threat to national security. The film recounts these events as a the young man Raffi (David Alpay) is being interrogated by a customs officer (Christopher Plummer) on his return from Turkey were he has just visited his ancestral homeland.

I really want to like this film (I have now seen it three times), but I can only give it a fair rating (6 out of 10). I can’t place my finger on exactly what I think is wrong with the movie. Overall the acting is good (the film also stars Eric Bogosian, Bruce Greenwood, Arsinee Khanjian and Elias Koteas). Alpay and Plummer stand out in their roles, and I particularly liked Plummer’s more understated acting in this film as opposed to some of his other recent work. I guess I have to agree with a view more professional reviewers quoted below.

One reviewer (Harvey S. Karten, Compuserve) has stated that Ararat is “A difficult but worthy film that bites off more than it can chew by linking the massacre of Armenians in 1915 with some difficult relationships in the present.” Jonathan Foreman of the New York Post wrote, “The Armenian genocide deserves a more engaged and honest treatment,” and Kirk Honeycutt of the Hollywood Reporter added, “Canada’s Atom Egoyan gets in touch with his Armenian roots in the highly ambitious “Ararat,” an intricately scripted, beautifully photographed meditation on redemption and reconciliation. But while obviously an extremely personal work, it remains inextricably stuck in an emotionally unavailable rut.”

There is one great scene in the film however that deserves further mention. In it Raffi confronts Ali (Elias Koteas), a half-Turkish actor who has just completed playing his role as Jevdet Bey, a rather heinous character in the Turkish army (the following quote is courtesy of the Internet Movie Database:

Raffi: Were you serious about what you told him?
Ali: What?
Raffi: That you don’t think it happened?
Ali: What, the genocide?
Raffi: Yeah.
Ali: Are you gonna shoot me or something? Look, I never heard about any of this stuff when I was growing up. You know? I did some research for the part. From what I read there were deportations and lots of people died. Armenians and Turks. It was World War 1.
Raffi: But Turkey wasn’t at war with the Armenians. I mean, just like Germany wasn’t at war with the Jews. They were citizens. They were expecting to be protected. That scene you just shot was based on an eyewitness account. Your character Jevdet Bey, the only reason they put him in Van was to carry out the complete extermination of the Armenian population in Van. There were telegrams, there were communicators…
Ali: Look I’m not saying that something didn’t happen.
Raffi: Something…
Ali: Look, I was born here. So were you right?
Raffi: Yeah.
Ali: This is a new country. So let’s just drop the f**king history and get on with it. No one’s gonna wreck your home. No one’s gonna destroy you family. Hmm? So let’s go inside and uncork this thing and celebrate. Hmm?
Raffi: Do you know what Adolf Hitler told his military commanders to convince them that his plan would work? “Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?”
Ali: And nobody did. Nobody does.

It is a shame that more people are not aware of this sad chapter in human history. In fact, the Turkish government still denies after more than 90 years that the genocide ever took place. Perhaps the best reason to view this film is to acquaint one’s self with these events.

The film is rated R for violence, sexuality/nudity and language and is probably inappropriate for children under 15 given the graphic violence that is both shown and implied.

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2 thoughts on “Ararat: A Movie Review

  1. Personally, I don’t think Egoyan has done better than The Sweet Hereafter which I thought was excellent. Felicia’s Journey was pretty good too.

    What’s the one where a bunch of people are searching for a body? Is that a subplot in Exotica? That movie I didn’t like so much.

    But I do think it’s cool that he’s got a sort of company of actors he works with, like Greenwood, Khanjian (you know she’s Egoyan’s wife, right?) and Koteas.

    I’m amazed that you can sit through three viewings of a movie you don’t really like.

  2. Well, I don’t not like it. It’s only fair, but the performances of Aplay and Plummer in their interview scenes are very good, and they raise questions about the nature of truth telling that I find interesting.

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