Armenian News Network / Groong

The Critical Corner - 01/31/2013

Vicken Chaldranian's latest film: The Sound of Silence
A Critical Review

Armenian News Network / Groong
January 31, 2013

By Bedros Afeyan

Vicken Chaldranian is an auteur, having a strong voice, a vision he
stays true to, come what may, no matter what obstacles you put in his
way. Having made a number of movies already on shoe string budgets
each with a heart as large as their budgets are small, with focused
and limited shot plans and squeezed spatial scope, avoiding temporal
seepage, keeping costs down, but reaching for the moon, the stars, the
essence and reverie of man, each and every time.
Vicken wants to give his audience a real theatrical experience whether
it be on stage, or on the screen, or when the two are split or made to
gainfully coexist. He does not care for purity of medium or ease of
accessibility, or to adhere to the norms that define mainstream
media. He will see his story through; his characters will explore
their capabilities and reach a surprising synthesis that without
Vicken in the room would never come to pass at all.
There is a girl he dreams of, his faulty Juliet, a broke, fallen
angel, a tricked actress who now lives with the dogs, literally, in
the city dump. But the dump is also a stage, a Greek amphitheater, a
world forum, a sunny open sky, no lies, no manners, no acting haven,
cauldron, exposed to rain, sun, cold cruel nights, and a constant din
of gun shots, trying to take out the stray dogs, and a moving tractor
bulldozer operator, giving us the sounds of civilization, the ugly
sounds of efficiency, drowning our humanity one loud thrust, hiccup
and thrust again, after another.
This is a beautiful nest for just about anything to come through. And
whom do we have as our actors today? A movie producer/director from
Hollywood, John and a tramp (Jiji or Juliet). She is the sweetest of
theatrical elements, a trickster, a harlot, an innocent Madonna, now
ugly with shaved (masked) brows and unkempt hair, now ravishing in
period costume, her fanny exposed to splashing water and a parasol
twirling like eyelashes of a carefree young ing nue, in mid sentence.
The gradients are steep in Vicken's palette. Anyone can turn bad or
worse, at any time. You are never certain what dog will bite, what
bullet will strike, what wife, boss, obligation, camera man, contract,
shooting schedule will drown or dwarf, as the Producer is seduced by
this vixen by any other clothing, counter-type cast, intentionally
removed from agreeableness so that we can slowly draw her in and be
enveloped by her intrinsic if not supra-human or Platonic
(ideal-universe-dwelling) charms. She is at once vulnerable and
impenetrable. At once an enthusiastic acting student and a prostitute
in Dubai, taken there by a treacherous fianc e knowing full well what
he is doing while taking her to her first dancing gig for a bunch of
rich Arabs in a dark room with loud music and hard beds that shake,
creak and sob.
So now, in this dump, in this safe smelly Yerevan haven, the Hollywood
producer comes to save the day, but who will save whom? Who needs to
extricate himself from his own oppressive reality more? Is it he or
she? That is what the play toys with or the movie, based on a play
written by the same author, all the while exposing currents and trends
in Armenian reality that are seldom given a second thought, let alone
a focused center stage, as they are here, in the Sound of Silence, by
Vicken Chaldranian.
Jiji, the crazy girl, having driven herself mad so that they would
release her from Dubai, who has been institutionalized in Armenia
since that traumatic betrayal and neglect, is now living each day for
its own sake, with her dogs and their assassins, and the progress
heard in a swaying, twirling, gushing tractor, moving one dump mound
past another, as if a hole could be produced deep enough to hide the
excrements of society living in flashing lights and champagne flutes
hurled at destiny, at midnights blue and streaked with glee.
Vicken does not miss much. Whenever he sees a persistent trend or a
coiled trace of reality, he slowly looks underneath its facade and
finds the true culprit, the true story and fixes to expose that
through twists of plot and layers of storytelling, which you have to
wade through before you too see its inevitability.
To understand where Vicken gets his direction, you need look no
further that the great bard himself and his utterance in As You Like
It: All the world's a stage/ And all the men and women merely players/
They have their exits and their entrances/ And one man in his time
plays many parts.
But if everyone is acting all the time, every citizen and ordinary
person is, then what do actors do? Certainly not act! Actors then must
act like non-actors trying to act! So it is second order acting. It is
acting, once removed. This is the insight and irony of life. That
non-actors act. Actors act like non actors acting. So non actors
actually act. And actors imitate these fakers!
This is a fascinating and liberating realization! It says there are no
limits to be placed on the comedy and absurdity that can result. The
actual perpetrators of acting have no idea how to do it. It is not
their m tier. But the true actors observing and aping this, know how
to do it, except their subjects are unstable and crazy amateurs who
can be mocked even further away from real living by the very means of
the fakery that they resort to in their daily lives. The plot, as it
were, always thickens!
Vicken gets so excited every time he realizes this that he adorns it
from scene to scene, from movie to movie, from age to age, to wrap the
entire human drive towards folly into columns of escaping dreams and
airs, on a theme of love, country, purity, purpose, that he knows will
never be captured with any real purpose, since everyone just wants to
look good, or state that they are trying to do good and get away with
their sins and sorrows undiminished.
It is philosophically and psychologically of endless wonderment, how
man balances his sense of self with his sense of duty and social
engagement. Where do duties start and when and how do they get
compromised? In a country such as Armenia, with all its pressure
cooker denizen woes and hazards, how is man to be so transformed?
Vicken is a chronicler of this saga. His people, old and
new. Historically or geographically, wherever they may roam, Vicken
will find them and fit them into his narrative, his observations, his
wishes and his resigned and threatening silence.
Madness is never too far away from any comment or act Vicken threatens
or executes. The search for the mad, the waxing poetic about the state
of a mental asylum and its inner peace and beauty, amidst the chaos
and folly of city life, this, to Vicken is a symphony, a cacophony and
a washed, rinsed pure state of being as well. Those who think they are
not in an asylum, fool themselves, he seems to state. Just as every
man is acting instead of being, so is every man declared sane,
pretending not to be insane, so that the insane, must act sane in
order to capture what the insane, passing for sane, refuse to own up
to: Their insanity. So what should the insane aspire or pretend to be?
Sane, of course.
If every walking sane is a lunatic at heart, and every soured look and
frowned face is nothing more than that of a clown screaming at its
loudest, masked, hidden from view, and every child is a genius
searching for a language to express his wisdom, and every girl an
amazon tiger ready to fight and defend her untarnished honor, yet
forced to be abused by foreign billionaires out of a false sense of
duty to a man who had no sense of duty at all, then what is the point
of story telling? Why connect the dots? Why not make absurd gestures
and sounds, wait for the stray bullet shooting at stray dogs to catch
you, the bulldozer to mow you over, and the sound of silence to sweep
over you and penetrate you, feeling undisturbed.
In Vicken's films, you do not escape destiny, nor do you change
it. You feel it coming, you have the time to think about it, reflect
upon its absurdity, and see that you are being compelled to do one
thing or thinking of doing the other all to escape your fate. But fate
catches you anyway, so why even try to run? You are a performing
clown. The only question is how big is your audience and how
appreciative of your jig might they be? This is a permanent state of
affairs in Vicken's view. His philosophical outlook is fixed. It does
not waver. It is the timbre of the story that changes, not its
direction. He does not hesitate. He absolves. More than any other
role, he wants to play the role of the absolver, and not the
revolver. The famous Armenian saying a propos this circumstance is:
Tsav't danem, which means, may I find a way to relieve your pain. May
I take away your pain. Make it mine. It is a tender feeling of
friendship and co-involvement in the deepest turmoil of a man's
struggle, which one Armenian offers another, when he perceives the
evil extent of the other's pain.
In the Sound of Silence, we have a girl who is a poster child for
"damaged goods." She is able to function and make a life for herself
in a municipal garbage dump. Vicken's Hollywood producer John wants to
take her away from there. They are sexually aroused. They are filially
aroused. They are nationally and fellow actor-wise aroused by each
other's presence. But none of this changes anything. No recitation of
lines from Romeo and Juliet, no reminiscence of exercises in drama
school, quaint but sad. He has his fate, and his rotten bed to lie in,
and she has her abandoned rusty car-roof to sleep on. Fate is not
changed by words or empty gestures. But recognition is possible and
retelling is possible.
Which brings us to the true calling of the actor. It is not to ape the
life of one who is acting at being something he is not (as expounded
above). It is cutting through that mask of folly, down to the threads
and thorns that are the true path we can not avoid, and which tear us
up, so that some observer, if moved, might avoid similar tumbling runs
in their own life, if they happen to be lucky enough.
The message is, you cannot change your own fate, almost always. But
the beauty of the human condition is that you may be able to change
the fate of a well chosen other. This brings us to the heart of the
Christian narrative, to Jesus on the cross, to Jerry in the Zoo Story,
ala Albee, who changes Peter's future and not his own, and in the
Sound of Silence, it is the mad harlot that changes, John. He is
changed by crazy Jiji, whilst trying so very hard to "save her"
The most touching moment in the movie is very near the beginning, when
the producer saddened and shocked by her fate, asks her, how are you
dealing with this fate of yours? What is to be done with your fate?
And she asks him back, and what is to be done with yours? Each of us,
peering into the depths of another sympathetic soul, will always be
faced with alarming decay, peril and a Damocles' sword or two hanging
from the chandeliers of illuminated regret. What should we do in that
instance? Ignore it and move on? Make love and live the little death,
as the French call an orgasm? Or should we transfer that pain over to
ourselves as Armenians volunteer with their saying, tsav't danem? May
I erase or eradicate your pain? No. We can observe, we can chronicle
and we can transmit. It is the pain of yet a third person that may
benefit from that human transmission. Not the players in the primary
drama who cannot help themselves.
That is the human condition, Vicken understands and tells and retells
it with every gem of a movie he makes. It is neither an easy subject
nor a sexy one. But it is a profoundly endless dilemma of
consciousness and fidelity towards society for us to make ourselves
see well, observe and understand well, and act as sentinels for our
brethren, lest they too fall into the same traps we do as often as we
may have wished not to have done.
Hope you will see this beautiful movie, the Sound of Silence and live
and relive your awe of man and his absurd habit of pissing in the wind
and wishing to come out smelling like a rose, all the same.

Hamazkayin Boston and AGBU New England Chapters present the Boston
premier of Vigen Chaldranian's newest film "The Voice of Silence"
Saturday February 2, 2013, 7 pm at the Armenian Cultural and
Educational Center, 47 Nichols Avenue, Watertown, MA 02472. The
screening will be followed by a reception with Vigen Chaldranian.

Dr. Bedros Afeyan is a theoretical physicist who works and lives in
the Bay area with his wife, Marine. He writes in Armenian and in
English and also paints and sculpts. Samples of his work can be found
on the web by clicking on his personal web pages at:
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