Notes From Hairenik

Well, the Golden Apricot Film Festival has come again, this time in its fifth incarnation. This year there is a focus on the films of Michanangelo Antonioni and some films produced based on plays or stories written by celebrated Armenian-American Pulitzer Prize-winning writer William Saroyan. There seems to be plenty of entries from Asia and Europe and dozens of short films are being shown, but most of them during the day in small theaters throughout central Yerevan.

On Monday night I went to see Antonioni’s La Notte with Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau at the Nairi Cinema Complex on Mashdots Avenue. The film was disappointing unfortunately as I have been meaning to see it for years. The acting seemed flat and the dialog was nothing special. It was also terribly long and tedious--the majority of the people in the group I was with could not wait for it to end, including myself. The print was also very poor with the film breaking three times. And for some reason, the folks at the film festival decided to find a print with Spanish subtitles rather than English ones. This was a major inconvenience for the following all-important reason: the film was being translated into Armenian live. Yes, live, by a clueless woman who spoke in a monotone and was actually spoiling the entire experience of watching a film projected on a screen in a theater, as films are meant to be seen. Not only was the translation too wordy, the actor’s lines were misconstrued or made more complicated. As an example, a line of dialog from a person saying “Give me a cigarette” would have been translated as “Excuse me, but may I please have a cigarette so I can smoke it, thank you.” The problem naturally is that people do not actually speak that way with such manners and etiquette, especially in the movies. And certainly not in the atrocious deadpan way it was being read. Much of the time the narration, which what it essentially was as if we were watching a documentary, was laughable it was so absurd. The woman was even translating what some random film extra was lovingly cooing to a cat she was caressing for three seconds. Two minutes into the film I caused a near scandal by complaining to the staff that the woman should keep her voice down as it was unacceptably overpowering the dialog of the actors, which was barely audible. That problem was soon fixed but the banter of horror nevertheless continued.

Two years ago films were subtitled in English and there was no one translating out loud--the way things should have continued. Film aficionados do not have issues with reading English subtitles, and that should include serious moviegoers in Yerevan, in other words those who understand and appreciate world film. Armenian subtitles are out of the question since they would cost way too much to produce, and they would probably occupy half the screen anyway, so that option is out.

Since I have been waiting all year for this festival I am going to see at least one film a day if I can help it, but I have resigned to the reality that someone is going to be speaking the whole time at each screening, an unfortunate annoyance. Perhaps if I go drunk it won’t bother me that much. I suggest for anyone in town thinking about seeing one of these films to do the same.

Check out the screening schedule on the film festival’s Web site.


Blogger nazarian said...
I wonder if there can be some technological solution like a powerpoint slide deck with the Armenian translation projected on the side of the main screen.

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Actually, now that you mention it, last night I was lucky enough to attend the "private" screening of Antonioni's Beyond The Clouds with a friend. Though some sort of miraculous technological breakthrough, subtitles in both Armenian and English were simultaneously projected across the bottom of screen in sync with each moment of dialog between the actors. They were clearly legible and for the most part grammatically correct. Some typos here and there, but that is nothing out of the ordinary in my personal experience. The effort was encouraging to say the least, and I hope to encounter the same for other films I intend to see during the remaining days of the festival.