Marking time

Language only part of the problem

Published: Sep 06 2018, 01:01:am

Tuesday, June 15, 1993.

CALENDAR. Music performed by Eve Egoyan. Written, produced, directed and edited by Atom Egoyan. Running time: 74 minutes. Rated Mature with no B.C. classifier's warning.

THE CAMERAMAN WITH NO Name likes to watch.
    Peering through the lens of his industrial-strength picture-taking machine,  a Canadian photographer (Atom Egoyan) is on assignment in Armenia. He sees his wife/translator (Arsinée Khanjian) standing with their driver/guide (Ashot Adamyan).
    He's waiting for just the right moment to get a shot of an ancient church, a photo that will be used on a calendar. She wants him to take some time off and join them for a walk.
    "It's not a question of wanting to go or not," he tells us in voice-over narration. "It's stranger than that.
    "What I really feel like doing is standing here and watching. Watching, while the two of you leave me and disappear into a landscape that I'm about to photograph."
    Writer-director Egoyan is in love with the obvious. Calendar, his made-for-European-TV meditation on the difficulty of communication, introduces us to three unnamed characters unable to talk to one another.
    Language is only a part of the problem. Since he speaks no Armenian, our photographer must rely upon his wife's bilingualism to understand their macho, moustachioed guide.
    The real problem is that he's not interested in what they have to say. Through his lens, all he can see is a flirtation growing into intimacy, and he's getting jealous.
    Egoyan, unacquainted with understatement, insists upon making his point over and over and over again. After a bit, we learn that the overseas sequences are all flashbacks.
   Calendar's story unfolds during the following year. On the wall of the photographer's Toronto apartment is the finished calendar, with its 12 views of empty Armenian architecture.
    Now separated from his wife, he is entertaining a female dinner guest. When she excuses herself to use the telephone, he broods upon that fateful trip.
    Each calendar page introduces a new dinner guest. Each of the women feel the need to make an urgent call, and we hear each of them speak a different, non-English, non-subtitled language into the phone.
    During each call, our lonely-guy hero recalls more details of his overseas non-adventure. "I guess I want to know where this is all going to lead," he says around about picture eleven (November).
    "Nowhere interesting or original" is the unhappy answer.
    Calendar, a film that Egoyan describes as "completely spontaneous, completely improvised," is also completely unnecessary.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1993. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Context is everything. On April 23, I tuned into Inside Story. A daily examination of current events on the Al Jazeera English news network, it brings together experts from around the world to offer background, opinion and perspective. On this particular Monday, three weeks into what’s now known as  its “Velvet Revolution”, program moderator Jane Dutton introduced her three guests to discuss What is next for Armenia? Among them, speaking from the Al Jazeera Berlin studio, was bespectacled “Armenian activist” Arsinée Khanjian.
    In Canada, she is best known as director Atom Egoyan's wife and “muse.” Though he was born in Cairo and she in Beirut, they share Armenian ethnic roots. They met in Montreal, where he cast her in a starring role in his debut feature, 1984’s Next of Kin, the story of an immigrant Armenian family in Canada. She has been in almost every feature film he’s made since, winning a best actress Genie Award for her role in his 2002 historical drama Ararat.
    Together, they have embraced their roots in Western Asia, first in their cinematic collaborations and, more recently, in their social activism. In 2016, Khanjian was arrested during a street protest in Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Today (September 6, 2018), the couple celebrated her 60th birthday in Yerevan, where Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan acknowledged their dual citizenship and presented them with Armenian passports at a special reception.         

See also: Other films directed by Atom Egoyan featuring performances by Arsinée Khanjian include 1989’s Speaking Parts and The Adjuster (1991).