Aram Shahbazyan: Moskvich, My Love (Moskvich, im ser, 2014)

reviewed by Siranush Galstyan © 2016

As a result of the diverse and extensive programme of the Golden Apricot, the 12th Yerevan International Film Festival, some of the films that were divided up among the different sections suddenly seemed to appear side by side in my impressions and brought to mind that I, too, experienced a “socialist” childhood and youth, like the figures in the following films.

moskvichIn this sense, during his whole life, Hamo, the aged protagonist of the Armenian feature film Moskvich, My Love by Aram Shahbazyan, has the dream of owning a car, a Soviet-built Moskvich. Even now in his old age, when Soviet Union no longer exists and all his villagers would prefer to have a Mercedes or some other western car, Hamo still wants to buy the beautiful used Moskvich that a neighbour is offering for sale. And although the roubles he has saved during his whole lifetime have lost their entire value in a single day, he is ready to start anew, this time collecting dollars. When their only son, who is living in Russia at the time, asks his parents to send him their photograph, the Moskvich forms the centre of the photo, with the parents standing on each side of it. Sitting at his desk in his “office,” with Khrushchev’s picture above his head, Hamo, a remnant of the past, writes a diary with a detailed report, makes “governmental” calls to the Kremlin, and so on.

The family legend and Hamo’s ritual dance play an important role in this tragic-comical story. In reality, he performs this dance whenever he feels pain or anger, just like his father once did. This spasmodic dance once caused him to be deprived of his dream. When years earlier he was in Lenin’s mausoleum, he felt so compassionate and became so angry that he broke into his uncontrollable ritual dance, because he disapproved of the fact that Lenin's dried-up body had become an “attraction,” a show. But despite the fact that he was only showing his great veneration for Lenin, the authorities put him in prison, depriving him permanently of the right to buy a car. Now in post-Soviet times, this son of a former hero of the battle of Stalingrad and hero of “Socialist work” is reduced to earning a few dollars by selling off the family medals and distinctions, although they no longer have any financial value.

moskvichThe film Moskvich, My Love takes place over a long and eventful period of time, ranging from the distant and recent past to the present day, from the Second World War to the Karabakh war of our times, from the bitter fate of the Armenians who had escaped from Azerbaijan—Hamo is one of them—to the present-day politicians, who collect votes by giving “gratuities” and false promises …

Hamo’s dream reaches its culmination in a shadow-play scene when he has his wife sit next to him while he describes the scenes as he “drives” her around Moscow’s Red Square and other famous places, his hands gripping a plate instead of a steering wheel. The scene reaches a climax when his wife, playing along with the rules of the game, tells him to drive carefully and keep his eyes on the road … Another time, almost confessing his love to the Moskvich that he hopes to buy, Hamo acts just like Gogol's Akaki Akakievich and becomes so sensitive about the car in the shed that he promises it that he will never drive it in bad weather. However, Hamo is destined never to own the car of his dreams.

moskvichThe young heroes of the Russian film Pioneer Heroes (Pioneri-geroi) by Natal’ia Kudriashova dream of “bigger” and more “heroic” things. As the author has herself remarked, the film is a tribute to her Soviet childhood, where great ideas and ideals played such a big role in contrast to our own prosaic, unidealistic times. But in addition, there is another much deeper phenomenon explored in the film—the influence that ideology and compulsion, ideological and even heroic stereotypes can have on children’s subconsciousness. For instance, one of the heroines, at the very young age of a pioneer, imagines that she is being tortured, but says nothing to anyone, a vision that gives her sexual satisfaction. Her best friend and classmate suffers indescribably from the knowledge that her father is illegally distilling and bootlegging vodka and that she as a loyal pioneer has not told the authorities. She is relieved when she reveals her secret to her friend, who says “So what?!” and promises to continue their friendship. These girls and another classmate who dreams as a young boy of inventing a cure-all medicine are obliged to live their adulthood in another country in completely different times.

Now that they are grown up, the only things people dream of are stability and safety. The boy, who had once rebelliously refused to sing the solo part in the school chorus, now decides to quit his career as a political analyst and become a monk. And one of the girls becomes a victim of terrorism when trying to rescue a child whose mother has been killed in the explosion. She finds herself in “pioneer heaven” where pioneer angels with red neckties flank the stairs leading to the heavens… Although a bit diffuse, albeit saturated with dreams of the original heroes, this debut film sometimes seems to lack integrity; it could have resulted in much stronger artistic generalizations and would have had an even greater overall effect.

moskvichIn this sense, As We Were Dreaming (Als wir träumten), by the experienced and accomplished German director Andreas Dresen, is complete and full of powerful energy. Depicting East Berlin in the 1990s, it shows teenagers who as youths had attended a socialist school. There they were in some sense limited by socialist negligence, although they had to dream of building up Socialism. Now after the fall of the Berlin Wall, they find themselves in a vacuum of unconscious freedom. They start to fill this vacuum with violence, cruelty and drugs. This leads to anarchy, stamping out their childhood dreams of marrying the most beautiful girl in the city or becoming an invincible boxer. And the only thing that remains is the pain of their dreams and the loss of their friends.

True, the movies we watched were filmed in different countries, but they have certain historical similarities due to the geopolitical changes of the last century. And as a rule these changes all have an influence on the lives of ordinary people, often leaving an indelible mark. Now teenagers or adults, they all had dreams as a child. Still dreaming, but forced to live in a changed country, there is no longer room for their prior dreams. As the old Chinese proverb says: “God forbid to be born in chaotic times.”

Courtesy of FIPRESCI: Originally published on the FIPRESCI website in 2015

Siranush Galstyan
Yerevan

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Moskvich, My Love, Armenia, Russia, France, 2014
87 minutes
Director Aram Shahbazyan
Script Levon Minasyan, Esther Mann
DoP Artur Garagyan
Production Design Sedrak Velikodni, Tigran Asaturov, Hasmik Aghanyan, Anna Hovhannisyan
Music Albert Abgaryan, Kirill Gorodny, Davit Davtyan
Sound Eric Bizet, Matthieu Deniau, Harutyun Mangasaryan
Producer Tereza Varzhapetyan, Gorune Aprikian, Marie-Claude Arbaudie, Sevada Aghabekyan
Cast Martun Gevondyan, Hilda Ohan
Production National Film Development Foundation, Araprod, Film Studio 55, Aremac

Aram Shahbazyan: Moskvich, My Love (Moskvich, im ser, 2014)

reviewed by Siranush Galstyan © 2016

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