Nº6 2020 (3)

The Transformational Potential of Atom Egoyan’s Armenian Diasporic Films

Shant Bayramian (Video Essayist)

There are many scholarly works that theorize about how Armenian-Canadian filmmaker, Atom Egoyan, deconstructs the essentiality of the Armenian identity through his diasporic films. From Ararat (2003) to Calendar (1993), it is clear that Egoyan’s take on identity politics is reminiscent of the post-colonial and post-structuralist cultural theorists of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is primarily because Egoyan is part of the Armenian diaspora, who still maintains close ties to the homeland and perpetuate their heritage onto coming generations through various media such as film. Unlike in other Armenian diasporic films, Egoyan is not interested in creating a pure and utopian Armenian heimat and homogenizing what it means to be an Armenian diasporian. Instead, he aims to challenge static and one-sided understandings and portrayals of the Armenian diasporic identity. The aim of this essay is to analyze and expand on how Egoyan filmically distances himself from static and presupposed understandings of identity that dictate the Armenian diasporian nationalist discourses and the cultural and sexual othering that comes along with it. I argue that Egoyan first constructs and affirms Armenian diasporic nationalist discourses, and then deconstructs it through the meta-cinematic technique of the mise en abyme; Ararat is a mise en abyme as it embeds a film directed by Edward Saroyan within the film. Through this deconstruction, the essay explores how Ararat provides space for transformation on a discursive level to emerge. Additionally, Egoyan’s Ararat is chosen as the film doesn’t aim to simplify and affirm the Armenian diasporic identity, but it questions and provokes it to foster new spaces of identification. This latter point is evident in the film through its connected multi-layered plot that portrays various diasporic subjects relating to the Armenian homeland in various ways.

Saroyan’s film is a historical epic that represents the Armenian Genocide from the perspective of the victims – the Armenians. His film reinforces narratives and discourses that fuel the Armenian diasporic identity by marking the Armenians as the victims and the Ottoman Turks as the perpetrators. The Armenian Genocide, and the collective historical trauma associated with it, is the main fulcrum which the Armenian diasporic identity revolves around, as Marina Kurkchiyan and Edmund Herzig state, “That consciousness of the 1915 killings and related horrors, universally shared, has held together the group identity; it is now the essence of ‘Armenianness’”. Following this train of thought, the audiovisual essay mainly harks back to poststructural notions of truth, postcolonial theory, narratology, and screen theory to dissect how Egoyan’s use of the mise en abyme not only destabilizes Saroyan’s grand-narrative, but also discloses how such narratives are perpetuated through film. The technique showcases how representation can feed into and reproduce seeming reality through cinematic and narrational verisimilitude, but at the same time, the technique debunks this aforementioned representational prowess by enclosing Saroyan’s film within a larger order of visual narration; the mise en abyme unveils the artificiality and constructiveness of Saroyan’s filmic work and the ideology it instills. Thus, this audiovisual essay understands Egoyan’s film, first, as a reflection of an ideological hegemony informed by media objects and vice versa, and second, a producer of new meanings fostered by this reflection. It is precisely within Egoyan’s production of new structures of meaning in which transformation arises. Channeling Egoyan’s use of the technique through an audiovisual essay iterates the filmmaker’s already ideological commentary. Representation through an audiovisual essay, where filmic criticism gains merit through audiovisual analysis, catalyzes the transformation in discursive spheres that diasporic films long for. This is primarily how diasporic films function, bringing marginalized discourses into social consciousness.



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How to cite this article: Bayramian, S. (2020) The Transformational Potential of Atom Egoyan’s Armenian Diasporic Films/El potencial transformador de los filmes sobre la diaspora armenia de Atom Egoyan. Tecmerin. Revista de Ensayos Audiovisuales, 6(3). ISSN: 2659-4269

Other videoessays in this issue:

Farrokhzad / Golestan: Synergies between Cinema and Poetry
Luis Aceituno, Javier Leiva & Fernando Yubero (UC3M)


Double repetitions in Memories of Underdevelopment
Paul A. Schroeder Rodríguez (Amherst College)


Familiar Fatales
Erin K. Hogan (University of Maryland Baltimore County)