Pomexpress Review: Akhtamar

January 4, 2010 at 10:27 pm (media, nationalism) (, , , , , , , , )


After eagerly anticipating a gem of corporate nationalist propaganda, I was thoroughly disappointed on multiple fronts by the Ararat Bandy production, Akhtamar – a short film by the Shammasian brothers.  The Armenianness of the “legend retold” is reduced to hackneyed national images: Mt. Ararat, Garni, Republic Square.  The taxi driver character eats a pomegranate and drinks coffee for a full five minutes.  In the grand tradition of Armenian cinema, Akhtamar was super boring.

All of the language choices in the film were odd.   The Armenian language is practically

Tamar Credit: Addis Zaryan

absent and, while I knew from the start that the young actors were not Armenian (he is Russian and she Uzbek), I was unprepared for the award-winning old Armenian guy to speak only Russian.   Furthermore, the compulsory subtitles are only available in English.  These decisions were clearly motivated brandy marketing: the Russian market drinks up 85% of the Yerevan Brandy Company’s exports.  The Russian language makes the film accessible to much of the former Soviet Union while English subtitles cater to a broader brandy-drinking audience.  That leaves only Armenian speakers with the short end of the bottle.

Akhtamar is billed as the “first in a series of legends retold;” however, the most egregious offense is the absence of a ‘retelling’ of the fable itself.  A retelling is defined as a new version of a story.  In Akhtamar, the legend is simply told, and poorly, by the taxi driver.  There is no adaptation of the plot to suit modern Armenia and it is questionable whether the uninitiated would even understand the original tale.  The film contains a love and love interest, but several major elements of the tale are missing: there is no torch or swimming, or rough waters, or death.  In short, the short is not a retelling of the legend of Akhtamar.

Ararat brandy’s Akhtamar is an Akhtamar-lite film with unremarkable performances by CIS eye-candy and a problematic, one-note plot.  With some visual and narrative inconsistencies thrown into the mix, Akhtamar leaves viewers craving an authentic retelling served up with a snifter of brandy.


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Armenian Cognac and Corporate Nationalism

December 30, 2009 at 10:52 pm (art, nationalism, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Armenia is famous for its cognac.  Winston Churchill famously preferred Armenian cognac to the other, less-Armenian varieties on the market.

The Yerevan Brandy Company is Armenia’s oldest cognac producer and, though now owned French alcohol conglomerate Pernod Ricard, the company maintains a line of cognac under the Ararat label with names that reflect Armenia’s cultural heritage.  For example, the six-year aged Ani cognac is named after the capital city of the Bagratuni Kingdom (885-1045 CE) and the twenty-year Nairi is named after the pre-Urartian bronze age settlement that is one of the contenders for the Armenian homeland.  That both are now located the Republic of Turkey, just over the closed border, adds modern political tension to the pain of centuries old territorial loss and dynastic decline.  Nevertheless, artists, writers, and companies alike have kept this nostalgia for Armenia’s glory days at a steady boil for generations.

Perhaps this is best illustrated by the island that inspired the poem, the countless paintings, and the cognac: Akhtamar.  Akhtamar is an island on Lake Van in eastern Anatolia, an area where Armenians once flourished and still cherish as their ancestral homeland.    Hovhannes Tumanyan turned into poetry the tale about clandestine lovers that – legend has it – gave the island its name.  Even the lone island (now a peninsula – thanks Soviet ecologists!) in the Republic of Armenia’s lake Sevan is commonly referred to as Akhtamar.  This mixture of romance and bittersweet nostalgia makes for some powerful branding, and the Yerevan Brandy Co’s ten-year aged Akhtamar cognac is now an important cultural signifier all on its own.  If fact, a cousin told me about a kind of pilgrimage in vogue today: Armenians travel to Akhtamar in Turkey, with a bottle of Akhtamar, get a picture taken with the bottle, the Armenian flag, and a Lake Van cat, and then return to Armenia with the cognac (and drink it). 

To keep this momentum going, the Yerevan Brandy Company is releasing a short film tomorrow entitled Akhtamar that will likely be available here.  I am expecting some well placed shots of cognac.  The trailer alludes to the Tumanyan poem and promises to be the first in a series of “legends retold.”  Retold through brandy and hot CIS actors?  I’m in.      

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