'THE SIMON'S WAY'
- Directed by Edgar Baghdasaryan -
This short film is a cultural portrait of an Eastern European society in transition, outlined through the means of a beautiful narrative about a family separated by a closed country border.
Simon lives a peaceful life in rural Armenia, close to family and friends, and also keeps in contact an unconventional way with his relatives in Turkey, just across the border. For more than 20 years, the diplomatic relations between the two countries are blocked and the frontiers are closed. So even if part of the family is only half a kilometer away, crossing on the other side can get the adventurous traveler arrested. Simon managed to keep in touch with his relatives using messages written on cardboard and binoculars.As his grandfather in Turkey is dying and wants to pass on something important, Simon has to find away to get there and the only legal possibility is going 11000 around just to reach the house across the borderline. Simon’s makes the effort to get there, but the old man had already died. He now has the chance to connect to a part of the family he never met.
The main trait of this film is authenticity: of dialogues, of characters and of the atmosphere. The heartwarming story is filled with an Eastern European flavor, that slips in the unhurried rhythm of the film.
The tenor of this film is the significance of family in the Armenian society, while the central theme is the importance of strong family bonds in preserving a nation’s heritage against all political odds. The plot makes me think about old Balkanik myths praising human closeness and national identity over material goods and wealth. An old man calls for a distant nephew to give him a personal treasure: the family’s tree. This document has also the function of reuniting long lost cousins and uncles: the dead senior is guarding them against his coffin like an angel of unification. His final act before passing away is passing his legacy to the wandering men of the family.
The director knows how to catch the essential traits of a culture. The film starts with a family barbeque, where due to the handheld camera, the spectator feels like taking part in the gathering, like if the camera was used by a table companion. Small family feuds, jokes, and folklore songs go along with abundant eating and drinking. The dialogues are natural and even if the characters are well defined, they all have a mix of humor and melancholy, of joie de vivre and fatalism.
As Simon travels to Turkey, we see a glimpse of the diverse culture on the other side of the border through a simple narrative device: a long bus trip. Simon meets rebel youngsters, conservative Muslims, and simple country people; he gets to see the crowded city, but also the serene countryside.
The soundtrack supports the storytelling with an exquisite selection of local music, which reveals the character’s emotions. Music is what gives the broken family a sense of unity, in the end, a funeral ballad sang in the honor of the deceased men on both sides of the border.
The Simon's Way is a touching film, developed with great attention to detail and it reveals a director’s great talent to portray human complexity.