In 1915, the Turks deported and massacred nearly a million Armenians, a genocide which has never been admitted by the Turkish authorities. It's this often-overlooked holocaust, and its impact on generations of Armenians, which inspired Atom Egoyan's labyrinthine "Ararat".
The Canadian-Armenian director ("The Sweet Hereafter", "Felicia's Journey") explores how cinema should represent an event of such appalling carnage. How, for example, should a filmmaker reenact historical atrocities for a contemporary audience? To what extent can one tamper with the facts to convey a broader "truth" about the period?
"Ararat" explicitly views the past from the perspective of the present, using the device of a film-within-a-film. Director (Charles Aznavour) and screenwriter (Eric Bogosian), both from Armenian descent, are shooting a historical drama in present-day Toronto, based on an American eye-witness account of the siege of Van.
Acting as a consultant on this reenactment is an art-historian (Arsinée Khanjian) specialising in the painter Gorky. However, she is struggling to deal with her own personal traumas: she has lost two husbands, and her son Raffi (David Alpay) is having an affair with her step-daughter (Marie-Josée Croze).
Several months later Raffi is detained at the airport by a customs official (Christopher Plummer), who's confused by his own son's gay relationship with an actor (Elias Koteas) from the film.
Aided by Paul Sarossy's assured cinematography, Egoyan moves fluently between his various time frames and the assorted locations. That said, there's a nagging sense of dramatic contrivance to these interlocking (and in some cases incestuous) relationships. Just how many guilty secrets can one cast bear? And too many of the characterisations appear schematically drawn, with the actors saddled with lengthy speeches that articulate the film's themes
There's no doubting that this is a highly ambitious and personal project for Egoyan, but it's also one that, next to his best work, feels clumsy and convoluted.