This is the most ambitious movie yet by Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica) that focuses on the writer/director’s pet themes: the tension between parents and children, the way art and technology mediate and distort experience, and how people cope with tragedy. Only here, the tragedy is the genocide of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Turks in 1915. The Turkish government has never acknowledged the massacre, and that makes dealing with the aftermath even harder for Egoyan’s characters, people of Armenian heritage living and working almost a century later in present-day Toronto. Like the characters, Egoyan and much of his international cast (including Charles Aznavour, Eric Bogosian, and the director’s wife, Arsinee Khanjian) are of Armenian descent, so the personal nature of the project offers yet another opportunity for mediation and distortion.
Egoyan juggles several plot strands and characters. A Hollywood-slick movie (also called Ararat) about the slaughter is being shot. We see Armenian expatriate painter Arshile Gorky, who survived the horror. Khanjian plays a Gorky scholar who’s an adviser on the movie and who has an assistant-filmmaker son, Raffi (David Alpay), and a stepdaughter, Celia (Marie-Josée Croze), whose relationship with her stepmother is fraught with allegorical baggage. There are probably one or two more plot lines than even the thoughtful Egoyan can handle, but the larger problem is that tragedy is so immense, and the pall it casts so overwhelming, that the struggles of the contemporary characters often seem trivial and petty. Like the characters, you’re left feeling the presence of something profound and horrible but frustratingly out of reach. (115 minutes)