Notes From Hairenik
July 16, 2005
I just returned from a film screening of “Los Muertos” as part of the 2nd Annual Golden Apricot International Film Festival, officiated by Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan. The festival features films from around the world, mostly by Armenian filmmakers. The film I saw was an Argentinan/French/Dutch co-production.

The film was directed by 30-year-old Lisandro Alonso, an Argentinan, and this film makes his second. In a nutshell the film tells the story of a lonely, quiet man named Vargas, played by Argentino Vargas, who makes a voyage from prison when he is released to a remote village, which is best reached by row boat traveling along a long, winding river. The film was shot with no professional actors but also in the moment, with improvisation as the means, creating an excellent example of cinema vérité. There is virtually no dialogue, aside from small talk he makes when running across someone he has not met before or has not seen for a long time.

The use of nature as a storytelling tool is put to great use here. Vargas is clearly in his element in the outdoors as he easily adapts to any challenge he happens to meet at the spur of the moment. For instance, when finding a lone goat wandering alongside a riverbank, he does not hesitate to dock and jump out to grab it, then slaughter it immediately, live in front of the camera. Without a doubt most if not all of the film was shot in single or double takes, thereby explaining the element of spontaneity.

But perhaps the most impressive scene took place in the first three minutes, during which the camera weaves through the thick, intertwining trees in an overgrown forest like a snake, briefly revealing what it sees before moving onwards. People the snake-like camera finds that are never explained in the film are two dead children lying near a brook, a boy and a girl, just before finding the approaching legs of a man moments later.

As Ariga said, “That film was weird,” mostly because there was no clear narrative and thus, at times, was boring. However, I personally enjoyed it because of that reason, and it was something I never thought I would see in Armenia. Actually, at least 20 people walked out because there was no translation of any kind (although the images themselves told the story) and because they didn’t get what was happening. Armenians, being generally impatient, just couldn’t hang in there, save for about 12 or so people.

A brief note about the festival: it is a great idea and is welcomed, especially by a film buff and an amateur filmmaker like myself. However, it is not surprisingly disorganized as scheduled times for film screenings seem to change on a whim. The promotional image for the festival was a bit odd as well—a slice of buttered bread with a large “2” written on it in presumably apricot jam. In any case, kudos to the organizers for making this happen two years in a row. The festival ends on July 17.