A stilted history lesson on the ethnic cleansing of Armenians by Turks during the First World War ("Do you know what Adolf Hitler told his generals to convince them that it would work? 'Who remembers the extermination of the Armenians?' "), this is evidently a subject close to the heart of the Armenian-Canadian director, Atom Egoyan. Evidently too close. He had the good sense to take an oblique approach to the subject, starting off with two separate families suffering internal rifts in present-day Toronto, scrambling the time-line, and sifting the historical horrors through the filter of a film-within-the-film. (The earliest dated scenes are a few glimpses of the artist Arshile Gorky, an Armenian refugee, at work in his studio in the Thirties.) We wait uneasily for the pieces to start to fit, yet once they do, the fit is forced: the disaffected son of a Turkish-Canadian customs officer lands the role of the villain in the film-within; and the Armenian-Canadian gofer on the film, returning from Turkish locales with sealed film cans, undergoes an endless interrogation by that same customs officer (on the very night, it turns out, that the film is unveiled at the Toronto International Film Festival!). All this obliqueness, all this nonlinearity, all this film-within-the-film detachment, all this layering and interweaving, cannot soften the bluntness of the point-making when we come to it. And nor can the unabating solemnity of the players (Christopher Plummer, David Alpay, Arsinée Khanjian, Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood, Charles Aznavour) mask the intermittent silliness. Though Egoyan may to an extent be shielded behind the fictitious filmmaker played by the soulful Aznavour, there is nothing about the footage of the fictitious film to hint that it's the work of a major director. It looks more like a made-for-TV movie, and an especially preachy, stagy, and fakey one at that. 2002.

Duncan Shepherd

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