A sputtering automobile slowly traverses an irregular dirt road on the side of a hill towards an ancient church on the summit (in a spare and elegant long shot that evokes the opening sequence to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia) amidst the elegiac sounds of a rhythmic, traditional chant. Inside the lumbering vehicle, a pragmatic and dedicated photographer (Atom Egoyan) has been commissioned by an Armenian cultural society to create a landscape calendar framing the region’s many historical churches (and occasionally, their only surviving ruins). Estranged from his own ancestral roots, the (appropriately) nameless photographer enlists his attractive and genial wife (Arsinée Khanjian) to serve as a translator for their motivated – and perhaps, singularly over-attentive – guide (Ashot Adamyan), a proud native eager to impart his knowledge of the richness and troubled history of the land and the people to his foreign-born, ethnic brethren. However, as the film begins, evidence of the inevitable dissolution of the couple’s failing relationship is revealed, represented by the recurring image of the published ethnographic church calendar marking time on the wall and an integrated telephone answering machine that occasionally records the receptionally distant, fragmented messages from his estranged wife as she tries to communicate with him. Attempting to live in the memories of a lost love that had been left behind, the photographer begins to construct his own reality, hiring a series of bilingual escorts in order to recreate an experienced flood of memories from their final days together among the idyllic, desolate churches of their alien, ancestral homeland.
Atom Egoyan creates a deeply personal, humorous, spare, and elemental meditation on cultural identity, rootlessness, disconnection, longing, and spiritual exile in Calendar. Recalling the incorporation of desolate, metaphoric landscape in Roberto Rossellini’s Voyage in Italy, Egoyan juxtaposes the serene, panoramic grandeur of the ancient churches against the detailed, often close-up and interior shots of crumbling structures and ruins that manifest the internalized turmoil and devastation of a dissolving marriage. Egoyan further fuses past and present through episodes of invariable, reenacted obsessions, selectively replayed (and consequently, intrinsically manipulated) recorded home videos (a referential narrative device that recalls Samuel Beckett’s hermetic, one-actor play, Krapp’s Last Tape, that would subsequently be adapted for television by the filmmaker), and personal and professional patterns of estrangement and self-imposed isolation (note the photographer’s designated “darkroom day” that coincides with the commemoration date of the Armenian genocide, April 24) in order to convey a visual sense of existential continuity and performance of normalizing ritual after a profound loss. In capturing the confluence of temporality, recollection, and enlightenment in the processing of personal memory and collective consciousness, Calendar illustrates mankind’s innately noble propensity to struggle against the erasure of personally – and culturally – traumatic human history.
© Acquarello 2004. All rights reserved.