Report of the Yerevan Festival – Once upon a time in cinema

The Silk Road and Genocide

Yerevan, in Armenia, is a dreamy name, on the Silk Road, near Samarkand. At the time, we can imagine the great caravans slowly leaving for Asia in search of this precious silk. Times are much less romantic. We have forgotten a little too much that at the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenians were victims of a genocide perpetrated by the Turks who have still not recognized it. Later, during the Second World War, the leader of a resistance network, Missak Manouchian, a poet of Armenian origin, was shot with his comrades by the Gestapo in February 1944. Louis Aragon made an unforgettable poem of it, “Stanzas for remember” one of the verses of which once again lights up the capital of Armenia with a melancholy glow: “When everything will be over later in Yerevan”. The name of Yerevan is also associated with Mount Ararat now in Turkey but which can be seen sparkling with its eternal snow from the heights of the city. City of carpets, of light, crushed by the sun with a welcome breeze in the evening, Yerevan and its so delicate and welcoming inhabitants is an open door to arts and life. Alas, and the two opening and closing night out-of-competition films both updated genocide for Amerikatsian Armenian film by Michael Goorjian and, for the closing night, Invisible Republic by Garin Hovannisian who returns to the phoney war, which is not over and which still threatens the Armenians that no one in the world really defends. Threatened because of the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh or Artsakh, a self-proclaimed republic between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the latter having seized part of the territory after the 2020 war. This conflict has been going on for years and risks igniting again at a time when we are only talking about the conflict in Ukraine. These two films are magnificent and deserve to be screened in France to make the Armenian problem better understood.

Important tributes and discoveries

But the Armenians continue to remain a cheerful people, but not oblivious, who dance, party and see films which were honored once again for this really very rich 19th edition. Apart from the two films about which we have just said a few words, many films out of competition, some of which had been screened at Cannes such as Tchaikovsky’s wife by Kirill Serebrennikov, Nights of Mashhad of Ali Abasi, Triangle of Sadness by Ruben Östlund (“our” Palme d’Or), Stars at noon by Claire Denis or even pacification by Albert Serra who was, at the same time as Costa Gavras, guest of honor at the Golden Apricot festival, this delicious fruit that ripens in Armenia. What to offer a tribute to this director and the public was able to review Z and the last one, great, Adults in the Room, more and more topical in our drifting world. But also Albert Serra’s other films, including the brilliant The death of Louis XIV. We also paid tribute to the ACID with the presence in a jury of Pauline Ginot, its director. There was also, in the international jury as president Terry George and the opportunity for the festival to also pay tribute to him with a retrospective, in particular Rwanda Hotel. This jury had to distinguish some eleven films, with several prizes unlike the jury of the international press (FIPRESCI) for which I had made the trip for the third time and which is entitled to only one prize. The times when we were not busy watching the films of our regional section (that is, all the more or less neighboring countries of Armenia), I was able to watch other films, the choice was infinite as in Cannes but in a more sympathetic way. So I discovered Ulrich Zeidl’s new film, Rimini. I admit that I went there believing that it would be a documentary on the city of Maestro Fellini. But no, it’s the story of an Austrian Latin lover singer living in the city and who seduces old ladies, in the director’s own style. What a slap indeed! With such a busy schedule of viewings and receptions, each one more fabulous than the other, I was unable to see Last year in Marienbadnor even Picnic at Hanging Rock by Peter Weir, a film from my distant youth. On the other hand, I discovered an Armenian film in the style of Emir Kusturica, Chnchik by Aram Shahbazyan, a bouncy and inventive director who studied at La Fémis. And then short films too, one of which marked me for life and yet it only lasts fifteen minutes, Subtotals by Mohammadreza Farzad. You will see below that he was rewarded and that is fair.

Of dogs and men

One thing is certain: current cinema does not forget animals, no doubt because they are much more poetic characters than humans, who have not yet been replaced by humanoids. But science is no longer fiction, artificial intelligence is progressing by leaps and bounds. Probably also because the industry is more and more influenced by ecology and animal theories. Regardless, in fact, at the Golden Apricot festival in Yerevan this year, one could not ignore the small and large dogs that cross most films. I had fun counting them and there are some in all films, often furtive, not necessarily in the lead role, but they are less easily forgotten than certain starlets of the sixties. In The Apple day by Mahmoud Ghaffari to whom we awarded the Fipresci prize, it is not a dog but a little chick that a shopkeeper gives one day to the young boy in the film, the one who will do everything to restore his lost honor to his father the theft of his van that he suffered. Italian neorealism is not very far away, and the apple thief is not the same as the bicycle thief. But little chick will become big, so that the child Mehdi will not be able to bring himself to sell it so that it is killed, even if it is to find a little money to buy some apples for his classmates, like the teacher asked him. In I am not Lakit by Marie Surae, the dog passing in the street, as if lost, can of course be a metaphor for Lakit, this young man without a family and almost without a past who is trying to live again. In Foragers by Jumana Manna, the dog even sits on the film poster. Republic of Silence by Diana El Jeiroudi is a long documentary of more than three hours which tells of back and forth between torn Syria and several European countries, in particular the city of Berlin. The dog that accompanies the couple is like a mascot, proof that they are still alive, because the dog is often much more photogenic and affectionate than the majority of humans. In revival by Ara Tchagharyan and Artashes Matevosyan who recounts, through anonymous videos, the days of revolution in Armenia in 2018 when the people revolted to oust corrupt leaders. Of course, we discover a dog passing through the demonstration, as proof of this reassuring presence. Rojek by Zaynê Akyol is a very sober and almost tragic film in its way of directly questioning the prisoners who were involved in the Daesh movement. We still manage to see in the desert, a stray dog. rings is a beautiful film, awarded by another jury of the festival, by Kurdwin Ayub which features beautiful girls who have “lost their religion”. In certain films that they constantly watch on their mobile phones telling them who is the most beautiful, we see dogs and birds passing by, making poetic incursions to say the least. For The exam by Shawkat Amin Korki and for A room of my own by Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze, no animal memories in the shot, even furtive ones. But I should have taken notes. I remember when I was young, I had imagined a scenario of film in which all the characters were held by dogs. I was flatly refused. Now I think I’ll be a hit if I take it out. Even in Tchaikovsky’s Wife by Kirill Serrebrennikov, there are two dogs jumping in a Moscow living room and a dog on a lead passing through a snow-covered street. And, of course, in our selection of regional films, 5 dreamers and a horse, Armenian film by Vahagn Khachatryan and Aren Malakyan, the horse, another animal sad to have been domesticated by ingrates, is present even in the title. And even if we see him very little in the film, he no longer leaves us in the same way as a cow giving birth or two others who, indifferent, watch us pass and live. It seems that the kitten is the darling of social networks. We have certainly seen some of them, but the dog is almost omnipresent in the cinema, as if the director wanted to capture what Hegel was already saying in the 19th century when talking about man’s best friend whose gaze is full of melancholy that man does not know how to express. In fact, we have come back today from the long held idea that the dog is a “domesticated wolf”. In reality, the dog and the man have co-evolved: the dog has somewhat domesticated the man. It would seem that the dog appeared 45,000 years ago when Homo Sapiens was in full mutation. Here’s why it’s become so important, and not just for film.

A unanimous award

And here are the lucky winners, then the evening ended in a memorable way in a swimming pool worthy of the splendor of Dubai with my plane taking off at 3 am!

Golden Apricot: Return to Dust by Li Ruijun,

Silver Apricot: Aurora’s Sunrise by Inna Sahakyan

Special Notice: Unrest by Cyril Schäublin

Regional overview:

Golden Apricot: rings by Kurdwin Ayub

Silver Apricot: The Apple Day by Mahmoud Ghaffari

Special mention : Rojek by Zayne Akyol

FIPRESCI Prize: The Apple Day by Mahmoud Ghaffari

Apricot Stone

Golden Apricot-: Subtotals by Mohammadreza Farzad

Silver Apricot: The Dead Will Understand by Ana Jegnaradze and Marita Tevzadze

Special mention : Night by Ahmad Saleh

Best Armenian short film: Korean Delicacy by Hambardzum Hambardzumyan

We want to say thanks to the writer of this write-up for this amazing material

Report of the Yerevan Festival – Once upon a time in cinema