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Big budget Russian-Armenian production portrays a tragedy that claimed the lives of 25,000 Armenians and left more than half a million people homeless, at the very end of the Soviet era - from the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM THE TALLINN BLACK NIGHTS FILM FESTIVAL

The Armenian genocide of 1915-17, when the Ottomans exterminated up to 1.5 million people (often in extremely cruel and inhumane ways) is a well documented event. But it isn’t the only tragedy that befell the Armenian people in the 20th century. There has been a far more more recent yet lesser-known disaster. On December 7th 1988, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Spitak earthquake hit the northern region of the country. While the number of casualties is inferior to the 1915-17 genocide and the deaths weren’t man-inflicted, the scars still remain in the body and the mind of those who survived the earthquake.

The middle-aged and handsome Ghor (Lernik Harutyunyan) has left his wife, daughter and parents behind in search of a better life in Russia. When the earthquake hits Armenia, he attempts to phone his family, but all of the telephone lines have been destroyed. He leaves a woman behind (presumably a lover) and returns in search of his family. Upon arrival, he witness death and destruction everyone, with people desperately scrambling the rubble in search of their relatives, and the rescue operations unable to cope with the high demands.

The photography is splendid. The debris blends with below-freezing temperatures providing the whole film a somber palette ranging between grey and blue. The settings are extremely realistic. The moment a school roof is removed only to reveal several children frozen to death is particularly harrowing. Parallel to Ghor’s search, we see his injured wife and daughter attempting to find a way out of the debris where they are trapped. The film structure is very conventional, revolving mostly around these two narrative arcs (Ghor’s search versus daughter/mother entrapment) which will presumably meet and offer a happy resolution at the end.

While effective enough as a disaster drama, Spitak also has a few problems. The climax at the end gets diluted by some half-baked symbolisms (including an awkward rabbit costume), and the ending isn’t as powerful as it could have been. The fact that Ghor’s and his wife’s relation is hardly explored (except in some very short and mawkish flashbacks) prevents us viewers from feeling as much empathy as we should with the desperate male protagonist. Also, some subplots – such as a young and pretty French journalist photographing the dead – feel a little arbitrary and disconnected.

Spitak was selected as the Armenian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 91st Academy Awards. It shows at the 22nd Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, which is taking place right now. DMovies is live at the event as a special guest.


By Victor Fraga - 22-11-2018

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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