Ararat (Canada, 2002) ** 1/2
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan. Photography, Paul Sarossy. Editing, Susan Shipton. Production design, Phillip Barker. Producers, Robert Lantos and Atom Egoyan. Cast: Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, Brent Carver, Marie-Josée Croze, Bruce Greenwood , Arsinée Khanjian, Elias Koteas, Simon Abkarian, Christopher Plummer, David Alpay, A Miramax release. 116 minutes. R. (violence)
"Ararat" is the by Armenian-Canadian "wunderkind" Atom Egoyan who started making movies at 19 and has been a major name for many years with his original, idiosyncratic features. The main purpose and the kernel of "Ararat" is to illustrate and explore the Armenian Holocaust/Genocide by Turkey, in and around 1915. It mixes past and present, fiction and documentary, old footage, reconstructions, items about Armenian-heritage people Among them :French singer-actor Charles Aznavour, the American star Eric Bogosian, and Egoyan's wife Arsinee Khanjian, who is in all his movies. It is also a film within a film, sets of personal stories, and much else. Several of those threads can be fascinating, but there are so many excursions and incursions that "Ararat" becomes a bit unwieldy, overblown, even lurid now and then. Still, this is a work that should be seen, and not just by persons of Armenian descent.
It is obvious that Egoyan is pouring his heart out in this work. That's a radical departure from his usual style(s), some of his avant-garde techniques, and his cool intellectualism.
While the film is heartfelt and very well shot --including Armenia-then reconstructed in Canada-its ambitious structure and the zig-zags among times and places require concentration to get this plethora of elements.
There's an advantage in a second screening. This was my case when I saw it again, after the initial projection at the 2002 Cannes Festival. Egoyan, by the way, did not want the movie to be shown in the Competition series.
A semi-funny story. At Cannes I was chatting, in a group, about the presence of Palestinian films. "Yes" opined a rookie critic from an obscure publication. "There is even a movie called "Arafat!" He was talking about "Ararat" of course!