ABOUT HIM OR HOW HE DID NOT FEAR THE BEAR – Lampooning the post-soviet reality

What seems as an anti-Russian film at first glimpse, Nariné Mkrtchyan and Arsen Azatyan’s recent ABOUT HIM OR HOW HE DID NOT FEAR THE BEAR – premiering worldwide at 48th International Film Festival Rotterdam– is a complex study on Armenian’s post-Velvet Revolution.

As serious as it gets, vast room is spared for a precise, yet subtle irony that serves right for the satire of Armenian modernity. There’s an eerie folk sheen on top of it: Russian tale of ‘Ivan the fool’ allegorizing the meaning of current political hic et nunc, that gives this social-realism grit a pinch of distinctive symbolism.

As the camera fades in, we see a soldier running at night. He climbs up the wall and burgles into someone’s house. He’s armed and one can tell by his face, he’s more than ready to kill. He enters the room, firing up and killing innocent folks inside. Camera follows the guilty one, not showing bodies, but sticking to the man’s face. After the crime is done, he sits breathing heavily, trying to put a cigarette into his mouth as his hands are shaking from the thrill. It takes him more time to finish the smoke, than to finish a whole family. He leaves the gun at the table and flees from the spot. In and out. Once the man has vanished, camera is going back to present the act of undeniable cruelty, slowly fading out. It presents a holistic view on death: kids laying next to their mothers and grandmas – the infamous Gyumri massacre from 2015 captured in one, overwhelming take.

Crime news is even more chilling.

In January 2015 Valery Permyakov, a Russian soldier stationed in Gyumri, gunning down the entire Avetisyan family: a middle-aged couple, their daughter, son, daughter-in-law, 2-year-old granddaughter, a 6-month-old baby boy in their home.
Permyakov was arrested while fleeing to the Armenian-Turkish border hours after the killings and sentenced to life imprisonment by an Armenian court. The two Armenian directors focus on the aftermath of the drama and outrage caused among many Armenians by the possibility Permyakov could only be tried by a Russian court.

What comes as an aftermath of the tragedy, is the topic of newest feature from Armenian duo, rendered in IV-act opera about seeking vengeance with classics from Khachaturian and intervals depicting the inner state of hunter becoming a prey. He’s symbolized by an impersonation of folklore’s Ivan with innocent eyes and a foolish grimace: summing up the unnecessary of a crime. The post-soviet reenactment of trauma is imaged through long takes and almost biblical symbolism, therefore one may feel familiar taste of not so recently awaken Romanian New Wave. Ironically, it is Velvet Revolution that enabled Armenian filmmakers to delineate the aftermath of such caliber.

Become independent in 1991, in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, Armenia has never liberated (like most of the post-Soviet States) from the yoke of the Kremlin that for over a decade has pulled the strings. The country depends largely on Russia for political, economic and military issues. At war with Azerbaijan over the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and with the unresolved genocide question with Turkey resulting in closed borders since 1993. The pro-Russian positioning of Armenia was guaranteed for over a decade by the long-time political leadership of Serzh Sargsyan, leader of the Republican Party and convinced nationalist (like most ex- communists from the ex-Soviet nomenklatura). Right up to April 2018 when a homegrown revolutionary peaceful movement far from the “colorless” revolution, of the Ukrainian or Georgian squares resulted in the unexpected resignation of Serzh Sargsyan, the country’s then-prime minister and former president for the past decade.

Facing term limits president Sargsyan launched a constitutional review that transformed the country from a semi-presidential system into a parliamentary republic giving the prime minister most powers formerly invested in the president. It was a miscalculation, because many Armenians regarded his move essentially as a third presidential term by the backdoor. Thousands of people under the leadership of Nikol Pashinyan, leader of the “Civil Contract” party, took to streets calling Sargsyan’s bluff. The Kremlin did not intervene, nor did the Armenian army. Unlike other colored revolutions Moscow was at ease as the revolution was portrayed as a domestic affair with no implications in the country’s foreign policy orientation. Armenia is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union and is part of Russia’s regional military alliance. , the country’s economic and military dependence on Moscow will not change.

Armenia (which has never shown pro-Western sympathy) is and remains outside the Western possible reach-out, anchored in the post-Soviet space. Armenia is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Eurasian Economic Union and is part of Russia’s regional military alliance. The country’s economic and military dependence on Moscow will not change. Although there is a solid political statement in their depicting, the gravity of this trauma pulls Azatyan and Mkrtchyan away from the populism, as they focus on a crisis of humanity and faith. They bring up a satire on manhood and patriarchy: big boys playing with guns and technology. A picture Armenian society might have indeed needed.

When everybody seeks justice outside the jurisdiction of law, protesting at the street –presented by directors in the footage of real anti-government riots that happened in Spring in 2018– it is within family circle that real drama begins. What’s outside on the streets, reflects inside in home of protagonists. When everything fails, there’s a religion to call upon and a priest with a ringtone of ‘The Exorcist’ theme. In this conflict of cross and gun, someone has to be a sacrificial lamb.

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