Armenia’s Oscar selection

Back in September it was announced that Armenia submitted “Yeva”, a drama directed by Iranian-Armenian Anahit Abad, to compete for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This is the sixth submission from Armenia since independence in 1991.

Text: Artavazd Yeghiazaryan

From Gyumri to Artsakh

In 2016, after a few years of interruption, Armenia was again included in the list of Academy Award submissions for Best Foreign Language Film. The Armenian National Film Academy tried to make their selection in the most transparent way possible. The jury members were announced and the films for the selection were presented.

But to put it mildly, the result was unsatisfactory. Russian director Sarik Andreasyan and producer Ruben Dishdishyan applied for the selection with their “Earthquake”.

On the one hand it was clear that the filmmakers had realized they had no chance of winning amongst the Russian competition, since “Earthquake” was not of any significant quality, so they just chose the easier way.

Even though the selection was transparent, many of the Armenian filmmakers were dissatisfied with it. After a few months had passed, it was announced that the film was disqualified as most of the film’s crew members were Russian citizens, the reaction became even more severe.

This year the Armenian application was less contentious, but it is still not a pure Armenian movie. The director of “Yeva” is Iranian-Armenian, Anahit Abad. Many of the members of the crew are also Iranians. The movie was sponsored by both the Armenian National Film Academy and the Iranian Farabi Cinema Foundation. However, the scriptwriter and the actors are Armenians. In September, “Yeva” was screened in a number of Armenian cinemas. The only mandatory prerequisite for submission is that the film must have been screened for a minimum of one week

Womanhood is highlighted

Anahit Abad has been working in the Iranian film industry since the 90s. Throughout these years she has managed to work as an assistant director and a producer, she has also worked on a number of Armenian-Iranian joint productions. Abad has also managed to shoot a few documentaries mainly touching on Armenian issues. “Yeva” is yet another one in that list, but the first full length in her filmography. She had an idea of creating “Yeva” back in 1999 during her first visit to Artsakh. Later she contributed with Armenian writer Sargis Hovsepyan to develop the script. So, as a result we see a female perspective of the aftermath of the war.

Abad’s debut feature film exposes the life a few years after Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. One rainy night, Yeva, the main female character, journeys to Artsakh hidden in a truck with her 10-year-old daughter Nare. She reaches Dadivank village and stays at her friends’ place.  Here she waits for her brother to send the relevant documents from France so she is able to leave Armenia. But she has no other option but to stay and to live in this village community, where everyone knows each other. But Yeva has a number of secrets about her past and this place.

Universal motifs

These are some long-known motifs in filmmaking: showing the life of a small community, an attempt to escape the secrets of the past, the impact of war traumas on peaceful life etc. And Abad has managed to transfer all of these to the Armenian context in quite a balanced way. A female director of a quickly developing Iranian film school has managed to expose motifs that Armenian filmmakers often fail to do.

The cooperation between an Iranian crew and Armenian actors played a great role in this movie. Experienced cameraman Hasan Karim, who’s worked with Iranian celebrity Asghar Farhadi, has managed to masterfully reproduce the melancholic beauty of the village in Artsakh.

The actors playing a number of supporting characters are in line with their place in the movie (Nanor Petrosyan, Shant Hovhannisyan, Sergey Tovmasyan and even cartoonist, animation film director and founder and director of Reanimania festival Vrej Kassouny, who is not a professional actor). They help to create a panorama of honest and noble people, who have not been discouraged and still have hope for the future after the war. They create a unique background for Yeva, experiencing her own drama. The shadows of war both directly and indirectly prevent her to build her future and live a full life. This phenomenon is so apparent nowadays among the entire Armenian society and is so native to each nation, who have witnessed and experienced war.  

Narine Grigoryan, who plays Yeva, is one of the most famous Armenian theatrical actresses. But this is her first experience with a feature length film. Sometimes her theatrical background is too obvious, particularly during the dialogues that are full of pathos. Her character uses unnatural literary Armenian instead of the natural dialect of Artsakh.  

Though “Yeva” does not possess the depth and the skillful usage of cinema language, it can still be considered a real progress in Armenian filmmaking.

Armenian-Iranian co-production highlights the importance of cooperation between professionals from different countries, which is one of the most important preconditions for further development. Although Abad stated during one of her interviews that it was quite difficult to make arrangements with Armenian representatives.

In addition to universal story and quality work, it is necessary to have international promotion, participation in a number of festivals and screenings in the USA to be included on the Academy Award list. Exceptions rarely occur if these unwritten conditions are not met.

In December it was announced that film didn't get to the short list. But it is still worth watching “Yeva”.