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Film Review: Amerikatsi

FILM REVIEW
Amerikatsi
Unrated
117 Minutes
Released September 8, 2023

A storyline predominantly based on voyeurism is not a new cinematic concept, and here are some examples of films with that overriding theme: Disturbia, Rear Window, The Burbs, American Beauty, One Hour Photo, Blue Velvet, Peeping Tom, Body Double and Under The Skin. What director/writer Michael A. Goorjian’s film, in which he brilliantly plays the principal character of Charlie, has in common with those films is that his character is incarcerated early in the story and creates a life for himself through voyeurism.  

As a young child, Charlie was secretly sent to the United States and grew up as an Armenian-American. Decades later, in 1947, Armenians from around the world were invited to return to Armenia.  Anxious to connect with his roots, he decides to be repatriated and, in short order, gets caught up in a big crowd trying to get bread from a truck.  A little boy gets separated from his mother, Sona, nicely played by Neili Uvarova. Charlie sees the mother’s frantic struggle to reunite with her son, and making his way through the crowd, he rescues the child and returns him to his mother.  

To express her gratitude, Sona invites him to a family dinner, at which time he meets her husband, Dmitry, a high-ranking Soviet officer well-played by Mikhail Trukhin. Outwardly, he thanks the American for his heroic actions, but not trusting Charley,  quietly arranges for him to be sent to a Soviet prison, instructing the guards to scare him but not kill him.  They more than scare him as he faces charges as an American spy.  After many beatings, he finally capitulates and signs the confession. A very confused Charley is thrown into a cell, unfit for humans and endures beatings and food deprivation. It is during his imprisonment that the voyeur theme kicks in.  

He discovers a small, high-up window in his cell, and using his bed as a ladder, he climbs up and sees an apartment across the street. The window curtains are open so he can see the daily activities of the husband, Tigran, wonderfully portrayed by Hovik Keuchkerian, who also happens to be a guard in the prison. His role is solely reactive with no spoken lines, but so amazingly performed that we know exactly what is transpiring. He is also an artist who refuses to comply with a State order making painting illegal.  With his creativity embedded deep in his Armenian soul,  he secretly continues to paint, keeping his illegal supplies locked in a closet.

Tigran has a beautiful, dutiful wife named Ruzan, also well played without dialogue by Narine Gioryan, and they appear to have a loving relationship.  She keeps the key to the supply closet on a chain that she wears around her neck.  Observing their daily activities, this very one-sided relationship gives Charlie a new lease on life as every night, using his bed as a ladder, he climbs up and joins them for dinner. To streamline retrieving the objects he needs, he creates a series of Rube Goldberg-type gadgets* that make his life on top of his ladder bed more convenient. 

Eventually, Tigran becomes aware of being observed, and the curtains are drawn.  However, ultimately, the curtains are opened again, and most subtly, the guard includes Charlie in a Christmas dinner toast, eventually even sending him food.  But, here comes that proverbial fly in the ointment as the couple begins having domestic difficulties.  Eventually, she leaves, placing the chain with the key to the supply closet on the angel statue sitting on the kitchen table. Charlie watches Tigran’s desperate search for the key, whispering, look on the table; it’s around the angel’s neck. Of course, the guard does not hear him and grows more and more frustrated as he continues his search. In an effort to send a clear message to Tigran, during a group exercise, Charlie lies down in the snow making a snow angel, hoping his message will get through. 

Charley watches the guard go from room to room and even sits down at the table where the key is hidden in plain sight. When he finally finds the key,  he realizes the meaning of the snow angel, and their relationship becomes symbiotic. The wife finally returns, and they are once again happy and loving. Now you might be wondering if that’s that’s that. But no. There’s another unexpected surprise in this extremely well-written script by the very gifted Mr. Goorjian. One day, while in the exercise yard, along comes Dmitry with his wife,  the mother of the young boy whom Charley rescued. She looks around and is shocked to see Charley, who, at this point, looks like a battered version of the young American she encountered.  Her husband had lied to her, saying that he found him a job in a factory in a nearby city. His wife is furious as he mumbles something about a misunderstanding. You can be sure Sona makes her husband’s life miserable until he does the right thing.   

Despite needing some cutting, Goorjian’s acting and directing are masterful.  Ghasem Ebrahimian’s camera work is inspiring, capturing the dire prison conditions as well as the emotional dimensions of both the principals and the uniformly talented cast, especially the prison guards, who become amused and supportive of Charley.  The story stands as a tribute to grace under fire as even under the cruelest circumstances, Charley’s character illuminates the joyful spirit inherent within us and that no matter how oppressive one’s circumstances are, that inner light allows us to make lemonade out of lemons. The film premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival last year, where it won the Best Narrative Feature award. It’s not surprising that Amerikatsi is Armenia’s official Oscar® Submission for Best International Feature Film.                 

Written & Directed by: Michael A. Goorjian
Starring: Michael A. Goorjian (Charlie,)  Hovik Keuchkerian (Tigran,)  Nelli Uvarova (Sona,) Mikhail Trukhin (Dmitry.)
Indie Distributor: Variance Films Production Co.
Production: People of Armenia
Producers:  Michael A. Goorjian, R. Patrick Malkassian,   Arman Nshanian, and Sol Tryon
Languages:  English,  Russian,  Armenian

Currently screening as follows:
LA – AMC Americana at Brand 18 – Glendale
NYC 
Quad Cinema 
AMC Empire 25 

*(Rube Goldberg was an American inventor who created complicated gadgets that performed simple tasks in a convoluted, indirect trajectory.)

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