29 June 2016 | runamokprods
Much better than it's critical reception, if not without flaws
I'm a little confused by the cool critical reception this received on release in the U.S.. Yes, it's uneven at times, and it's slightly distanced emotionally for an epic historical melodrama about one of the terrible genocides of the 20th century. Yes, it occasionally traffics in clichés, and there are some clunky lines and awkward moments of dubbing.
But that is more than offset by spectacular photography, tremendously affecting scenes of horror, loss, sadness, hope, anachronistic but extremely effective music, and an intelligent attempt to deal with not only the Armenian genocide, but what it means to be a refugee, the nature of silence, the complexity of morality in a morally confusing world, and many other themes that raise it above most of the Hollywood historical melodramas we see, including many that win Oscars and are great successes (many of which also traffic in clichés and have some awkward dialogue). If it's not quite as great as the far more personal and quirky films that are the very best of Akin's work; Head-On, The Edge of Heaven, Crossing the Bridge , it's still a thoughtful and intelligent film by one of the most interesting film-makers in the world today.
It tells the story of an Armenian who is forced to leave his family and perform slave labor after the Ottoman Empire enters the first world war, and follows him into ever worse layers of personal hell. Rather than trying to capture the scope of the genocide all around him, for a long while we get only hints and glimpses of the horrible larger truth, seeing only those things our character does. It's an intimate experience of genocide. The second act of the film, once the war is over, is our hero's long and winding journey to try and find what might be left of his family. Not the first time such a subject has been dealt with on film, but this does it with an off-beat and almost dreamlike tone, and a meditative pace. I found myself thinking of filmmakers like Lisandro Alonso as much as Steven Spielberg. It's a strong and worthwhile cross between art-house and old school epic melodrama. If you are willing to forgive the occasional lapse, it's very worth seeing.
A note of caution: The German blu-ray, while great looking, does not have English subtitles. The film is largely, but not completely in English (English stands in for Armenian), but some crucial scenes are in Turkish or Arabic, with no translations offered - a real problem. On the other hand, the US DVD has the film mostly dubbed into Armenian (which Akin approves of), and completely subtitled in English, which, strangely was more effective in some ways than the English track (and I usually HATE dubbing). But in this case many of the supporting actors clearly are not native English speakers, and the performances get very stiff and off-putting for it at times. When I saw the film a second time, in the Armenian dub with all English subtitles, it actually helped a lot of those performances flow better, and I found the film a more affecting experience overall. However, I wish there was a release that offered both the original English track with subtitles for all other languages (which doesn't seem to exist), AND the Armenian dubbed track with English titles, as on the US DVD. And while I'm at it, I'd like all that on a blu-ray, since this is a beautifully shot film. Sigh...