BY CATHERINE YESAYAN
As the Armenian community of Los Angeles was preparing to commemorate the hundred first anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the well-known French/Armenian film director Robert Guédiguian was in Hollywood on Friday, April 22, for the screening of his movie at the Colcoa French Film Festival.
Although there were several events around town that day in remembrance of the Genocide, I managed to attend the screening of Guedigian’s movie, Don’t Tell Me the Boy Was Mad. This was the second time I had seen the movie. The first time was at the Golden Apricot Film Festival in Yerevan last year.
The film begins with a black and white preface, in 1921 Berlin: there, in broad daylight, Soghomon Tehlirian assassinates Talaat Pasha, one of the architects of the Armenian Genocide. He carries out his revenge for Talaat’s role in the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians. Tehlirian is acquitted in a German court.
Then the movie moves forward three generations to the 1970s, focusing on an Armenian family living in Marseilles, France. The man of the family, Hovannes and his wife, Anoush, own an Armenian grocery store connected to their living quarters. The scene at Hovannes’s home opens with the grandmother singing a familiar tune in Armenian to her granddaughter, then telling her about the heroic act of Soghomon Tehlirian. The great backdrop of this scene melted my heart again the second time watching the movie.At that moment, the father enters the room and hears the conversation. He scolds his mother-in-law for telling his child unnecessary information that belongs to the past. In another scene Aram, Hovannes’s son listens to his grandmother’s hateful stories of what happened to her people: “If you become a captain, fill the ship with explosives and sail it straight into the port of Istanbul,” she tells him.
As their family life is shown, we learn that Aram, is secretly involved in an Armenian underground organization planning the assassination of the Turkish ambassador in Paris. The movie turns into a thriller when the group is shown reviewing the details of how to murder the ambassador. The plot is rehearsed many times. Aram is in charge of pushing the remote control button to set off the bomb, which would be planted in front of the ambassador’s limousine.
At a tantalizing moment, when Aram is in front of the window, across from the Turkish embassy, watching the Ambassador leave the embassy, and when he is about to push the button, we see a random cyclist pulls up behind the limousine. A few decisive seconds go by, but Aram makes the choice to set off the bomb. As I’m writing this, I still get goosebumps all over again, for the cinematography of the scene that was so very well done.The young cyclist, Gilles, is seriously injured and loses the use of his legs. Aram flees France and joins the Armenian Liberation Army in Lebanon. Aram’s mother, realizing that her son is the murderer, decides to meet with Gilles at the hospital and beg for his forgiveness.
By the time the film ends, Gilles has become a friend of the family. Anush and Gilles plan a trip to Beirut to meet Aram. In the mean time, Aram clashes with his comrades in Lebanon over accepting to meet his victim. Aram meets his mom and Gilles and is about to return to the camp when a confederate friend guns him down.
The screenplay is adapted from an autobiographical novel by the Spanish journalist Jose Antonio Gurriaran, who was semi-paralyzed in a bomb blast by the Armenian Secret Army (ASALA) in Madrid 1981. After his injury, Gurriaran studies about the history and crimes of the Ottoman Empire in their efforts to exterminate the Armenians. As a result of his research he becomes an activist for international recognition of the Armenian Genocide.
In the compelling and in the mean time emotional movie, Guedigian tries to spell out many things. He brings about the ripple effects and the lasting impact of the Armenian genocide and the bitter injustice that has passed from survivors to their descendants. Another complex moral discussion Guédiguian conveys is his disillusionment over the wave of militant attacks in Europe in the 1980s.
Both times that I watched the movie, I was overcome with emotion and tearful from start to end.