Harutyun Khachatryan: Deadlock  (2016)

reviewed by Armen Vatyan© 2016

In Search of an Exit

khachatryanFilms fall into three categories: in the first category, there are films that one definitely should not watch; that is the category that we most often see on our screens. The second are those that you can watch, but you also can miss; that is the favorite category of our Armenian cinema. Finally, the third are film that you must watch; very rarely does Armenian cinema create a piece of art, which is recommended for viewing at least once a year—better even once a month. At the premier of Harutyun Khachatryan’s Deadlock,Armenian audiences received such a gift. This is the latest documentary by Khachatryan and his permanent scriptwriter Mikayel Stamboltsyan. From the films they have created together, this perhaps has the most powerful emotional impact on the audience. It is capable of keeping the viewers’ attention until the very end and makes them not only empathize with the hero but also painfully search for the answers to our everlasting Armenian issues.

At first glance, the unassuming life story of an Armenian immigrant, an ordinary car mechanic from Yerevan, is elevated to the heights of a deep drama—personal, family, and national. Life in the American paradise turns into a spiritual entropy for the human being. We see quite a long phase in the protagonist’s life and trace the path by which the joy of life leaves his soul drop by drop.

The protagonist is called Levon. He leaves his homeland not because of a lack of patriotism, but because he has lost hope for his dream about the new and independent Armenia. He leaves for far-away California, hoping he to find a better and brighter future for his children and family. While living in his own city, he was sure that there is no way of getting out from the deadlock, where he was stacked not alone, but with the whole nation. Everywhere was a deadlock; it was geographical, economic, and political. The independence, which many were longing for, hoping that everyone will start living with equal rights, very soon became a disappointment. The lack of justice in the native country hurts more than the lack of electricity, gas, and work. It is possible to endure any challenge if you see that everyone around, without exception, is suffering from deprivations for the sake of the same, valuable goal.

deadlockThe authors do not impose their thoughts and views; they just give the hero a chance to tell his story. Concisely chosen home-video footage, where we see Levon’s happy family, in contrast with the scenes of modern American life truly create the effect of a fiction film. Levon’s fate and character are revealed with a psychological accuracy that is rarely seen even in the fiction films. This is achieved with Khachatryan’s startling and unobtrusive direction, who truly loses himself in the material. His protagonist is telling his life story not to the camera, but to each viewer personally.

It is as if Levon is the collective embodiment of an Armenian, whom circumstances have forced to live in a foreign land. There are millions of people who share the same destiny and carry the same drama as Levon. It is no wonder that Levon does not concentrate on himself, but tries to understand why his ancestors had to migrate constantly from country to country in search of better lives. Why even he, who was born in Armenia, not in a foreign land, had to repeat their fate of becoming a refugee and an immigrant?

When Levon decided to move to the USA, he was convinced that he had found the only way out of the deadlock of life. Only after a few years did he understand that by choosing emigration, he put himself in a far worse, spiritual deadlock. A foreign country with a mentality alien to our own methodically grinds all immigrants into easily digestible Americanized stuffing. The life of a slave and the eternal struggle for survival—this is all they can expect. A precise metaphor—a car dump, were obsolete cars are processed into scrap metal. The same operation is expected for people, who do not withstand the intense rhythm of the daily struggle for survival.

deadlockLevon lost his family, became estranged from his own children, and is practically alone. The man from the video footage shot in Yerevan (Khachatryan has been shooting the film for almost a quarter of a century) and the “lucky man,” who 18 years ago won the desired Green Card—these are two completely different people. There is no joy of life, love, or hope any more in the eyes of Levon. The false sheen of American life does not attract him any more, as he already knows how high the its value is. However, for this knowledge, he had to pay the highest price.

The scene of an Armenian wedding, where there is no joy in the eyes of the guests and no happiness in the eyes of newlyweds, looks like a theater performance where everyone has to play a role. We can feel the sense of hidden tragedy even during this happy event. The last refuge of the émigré is a modest place in the Armenian cemetery, among identical tombstones: American standards have to be followed here as well. Now Levon’s only dream, which he expresses at the end of the film, is to retire, return and live his last days in a rural village in Armenia. The homeland is the only place that can inspire and restore the salt of life.

The film is no propaganda piece, nor a warning. It just shows the life story of one immigrant, sincerely, with love and understanding, sometimes using bitter irony and humor. Levon is not a stranger to us: he is one of us. We all are in the same boat named Armenia, sailing in the raging ocean. Many people leave the boat, as they think they have reached the firm shore, but the foreign sun is not warming up and the foreign coast is a baleful swamp that sucks a few generations ahead and breaks families and fortunes.

The authors leave the conclusion to us, the audience.

First published in Russian in Russian Efir 5 May 2016

Armen Vatyan

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Deadlock, Armenia, 2016
94 minutes
Director: Harutyun Khachatryan
Script: Mikayel Stamboltsyan, Harutyun Khachatryan
Director of Photography: Gevorg Sarkissian
Sound: Hayk Israelyan
Editing: Harutyun Khachatryan, Tigran Baghinyan
Producer: Harutyun Khachatryan
Production: Golden Apricot FCD

Harutyun Khachatryan: Deadlock  (2016)

reviewed by Armen Vatyan© 2016