Areg Azatyan and Shoghik Tadevosyan: The Romanticists (Romantiknery, 2014)

reviewed by Maria Tokmajyan © 2016

A heartbreaking drama of the young generation

The film The Romanticists by Areg Azatyan and Shoghik Tadevosyan tells the story of a young actor, not coincidentally named Oscar. He gives up his career in his homeland and, having won the Green Card Lottery, he decides—without second thoughts—to leave for the America with his pregnant wife, Bella. This is a chance to make his American dream come true. To celebrate this special occasion and his impending departure, Oscar’s friends organize a boys-only party.

romanticistsWe see Oscar as a hopeless dreamer and romanticist. A childish innocence and ingenuousness are still present within him. He cherishes thoughts that the party will pass like in his childhood, when they were kind, easy-going and happy kids, when they had nothing to share; the world belonged to them alone. Their hearts were open to the world. Oscar was naïve to think nothing changed since the “good old days” when it was “the more the merrier” and when, despite poverty, their friendship was strong. This was the generation of the dark and hungry 1990s, but the hardships never impeded their sincere friendship, which echoed the Biblical wisdom “love your neighbor like yourself.” Yet not accidentally the Scorpions’ “Wind of Change” is heard as the soundtrack for of this young-generation drama.

At first, indeed, it seems that the friends get together to celebrate, but there is no joy. Soon they start questioning what they are doing there. Meanwhile, Oscar “the hero of the day,” is confused: he is smoking on the porch but his absence remains unnoticed. The tension gradually rises. Details, insignificant at first glance, are masterly expounded by the directors throughout the film, growing into an extensive set of symbols. However, the reality is just a mere surface reflecting far more profound and universal existential collisions. The Truth remains subtle and hidden to the eye. The world lives by the rules of some illusory game, where everything is senseless and nothing has essence—even in this art form which a priori truthfully tracks the surrounding reality. The fictitious plot and existential logic become absolutely inconceivable.

As the action develops, the narrative becomes less specific but more conventional. The location is also apprehended as a conventional space for the collision of former friends, who have become angry and jealous opponents and rivals. Slowly we apprehend what the years have done to them. The time has been cruel to everyone. Long ago they got “life is not rainbows and unicorns,” they lost their childish aspirations and strivings. They have all become reserved and settled. They cherish no dreams, they strive nowhere. The sparkle of life has gone, leaving grey ash in their eyes. They all are far too trivial. The lads have lost their wistful romantic charisma and their illusions. Now they have no backbone or humanity left. All but Oscar have drastically changed. It becomes evident that there is no place for him in this world. His false friends under drugs, ecstasy and euphoria kill him—in the direct and figurative sense. The drama grows into an expressively colored tragedy.

The absurdity in this Kafkaesque parable lies in the morning when they do not even remember what happened during the night. Everything seems the same, nothing has changed. Oscar is missing—no big deal. His mobile phone is left. When Bella asks one of the friends where Oscar is, he replies that he must have gone to the city as promised. It is obvious that Oscar will never return to Bella. In her turn, she concludes that he has left alone for America, since she and the child would have been a burden on his way to becoming a Hollywood star (the reference to “Oscar” pays back here). The friends also assume that he has left for the America—vanished to the alien land… The man is here today, gone tomorrow. Everyone forgets about him. Oscar has disappeared. They search for him, cannot find him and forget about him: forget what they have been looking for.

However, the filmmakers have kept to the classical unity of time, place, and action: this is a typical absurdist drama. Everything points at the huge ambiguity of human life, filled with instability, despondency and fears. The fear is not a mere emotion stirred by external stimulus, but also the imperfection and the eternal desire to get closer to the ideal. The time and space are vague and uncertain here; even the simplest chain of causation is destroyed. The senseless intrigue, recurring dialogues, aimless blabbing, and the dramatically inconsistent actions—all this serves one purpose: to set an unbearable, depressive atmosphere reaching to the absurd. All the characters suddenly find themselves in a liminal situation, sorting out relationships and settling accounts with themselves and the world around. In the end everything remains the same, although the directors keenly unveil the core of each character: the hero and anti-type in one person. The tension, pressure and vacuum of the enclosed space forces them take off their masks. The question is: is it a mask at all, or a guise, an appalling grimace…?

The film reflects the theme of paradise lost and the human expulsion from paradise, condemning man to eternal wanderings and roaming, in search of the self. Man acquires his essence along the path of life. The problem of the freedom of choice, man’s relative freedom from society and the problem of responsibility are also present in the film, which thus keenly reflects the metaphysical atmosphere of our uncertain and confusing times. This is a deep and heartbreaking drama of the young generation.

Maria Tokmajyan

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The Romanticists, Armenia, 2014
92 minutes
Directed by Areg Azatyan, Shoghik Tadevosyan
Script: Areg Azatyan, Shoghik Tadevosyan
DoP: Tammam Hamza
Music: Arthur Mitinyan
Cast: Robert Danelyan, Raffi Elliott, David Franzreb, Arthur Ghalumyan, Karen Khosrovyan, Narek Ktoyan, Hakob Manukyan, Narek Nersisyan
Producers: Areg Azatyan, Shoghik Tadevosyan

Areg Azatyan and Shoghik Tadevosyan: The Romanticists (Romantiknery, 2014)

reviewed by Maria Tokmajyan © 2016