Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
1915: Haunted by the Past
his studies of the Ottoman Turks’ systematic massacre of Armenians, Raphael Lemkin
coined the term genocide. Yet, Turkey refuses to acknowledge the genocide as
such, insisting instead it was merely a bit of clumsy rough-housing. This might
sound like a purely academic question at this point, but it surely has very
real world significance to Turkey’s Kurdish population, especially as the
government becomes increasingly Islamist and more closely aligned with Iran.
Clearly, the lack of historical closure deeply troubles the Armenian
protagonist of Garin Hovannisian & Alec Mouhibian’s 1915 (trailer
which opens this Friday in greater Los Angeles and next Wednesday in New York.
Mamoulian once directed a series of popular ethnic European comedies at the
iconic Los Angeles Theatre, but this will be his first production in seven
years. It has a limited run of one night only, yet it has inflamed the community.
Turks are outraged by the play for forthrightly depicting the genocide perpetrated
by the Ottoman Empire, whereas many Armenians are troubled by its Sophie’s Choice-like climax. It seems
like just about everyone is protesting outside, but the stakes are even higher
inside the theater.
wife Angela is playing the character unambiguously inspired by his grandmother
and it is taking a lot out of her. The director seems to be able to transport
her back in time to 1915 through a form of Svengali-like mesmerism. The rash of
suspicious accidents do not help much either. However, we slowly start to
realize Mamoulain’s play has two levels. Obviously, he wishes to speak for the
estimated 1.5 million victims of the Genocide, but the play also has hidden
personal meanings for him and Angela.
is hard to imagine an independent film that is more ambitious structurally and
thematically than 1915. As a result,
it is impossible to judge Hovannisian & Mouhibian harshly when they lose
control of their narrative. This is arguably a case where a little less would
have been a little more. In particular, there is potential nemesis character
introduced midway through, but his role is never cogently explained and he is
so quickly dispensed, he really only serves as a baffling distraction from the
serious issues at hand.
the other hand, the filmmakers made truly inspired castings choices, starting
first and foremost with French Armenian actor Simon Abkarian (Gett, Army of Crime, Wedding Song, etc.)
as Mamoulain. He has a commanding presence, yet he vividly conveys how
tormented his character is by personal and historical tragedies from the past.
Likewise, Twilight franchise alumnus
Angela Sarafyan truly looks like she was transported from 1915 into the Los
Angeles Theatre. Sam Page also shows some range when the audience least expects
it as James, the celebrity outsider.
It is kind of impressive how much Hovannisian
& Mouhibian try to say in 1915.
It does completely work, but they swing for the fences—and arguably do not come
up so embarrassingly short. In fact, it is rather fascinating to watch where the
film goes. They also convincingly make their central motivating point. When incidents
of great historical enormity are covered-up they fester and metastasize in the
national psyche. Sort of worth seeing as a noble failure with no obvious prior
analog, 1915 opens this Friday (4/17)
at the Laemmle Music Hall 3, Town Center 5, and Playhouse 7, as well as next
Wednesday (4/22) at the Quad Cinema in New York.
Labels: Armenian Genocide, Simon Abkarian