Ararat review

History ain't what it used to be in Atom Egoyan's deeply personal meditation on the 1915 Armenian genocide. Mindful of his audience's ignorance in this area, the Felicia's Journey director constructs a complex web of fact and friction that uses a film-within-a-film device to explore issues of truth, guilt and national identity.

Egoyan's subject is not the genocide itself, which left one million dead and two-thirds of Turkey's Armenian populace decimated, but how its legacy echoes in the present. An ageing filmmaker (Charles Aznavour) is shooting an epic based on the memoirs of an American doctor who witnessed the atrocities. Art buff Ani (Arsinée Khanjian) is on hand to offer advice, but commercial pressures oblige the director to compromise his vision...

This we learn from Ani's son (David Alpay), who's being held at Toronto Airport by Christopher Plummer's customs official with some suspect cans of film. Yet another subplot involves the custom official's gay son, whose boyfriend (Elias Koteas) just happens to be playing an evil Turk in the decrepit director's opus...

There's a lot going on in Ararat (named after a mountain in Turkey) and not all of it works. Egoyan's films are not known for their accessibility, and this isn't going to change anything - there's a declamatory quality to the dialogue, making it feel more like a lecture than a movie.

But you can't fault Egoyan, a Canadian of Armenian descent, for his passion. After all, it's his fusion of righteous indignation and searching historical inquiry that makes Ararat such a moving, intelligent drama, fearlessly shining light on this secret holocaust.

There's too many narrative strands, but this is still a fascinating history lesson that draws our attention to one of the least-recognised tragedies of the last century.

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