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Any film about genocide is going to be heavy viewing. Ararat is about the extermination of over a million Armenians in Van, Turkey in 1915. The Turks dispute that the genocide occurred and the incident is willed into amnesia historically."

Atom Egoyan has cleverly chosen to re-tell this incident by making it a film-within-a-film with contemporary events. Raffi (David Alpay) is a young Armenian-Canadian, torn between love for his mother, Ani (Arsinee Khanjian) and his step-sister, Celia (Marie-Josee Cruze), whom he is sexually involved with. Ani, an art historian, is approached by filmmaker, Edward Saroyan (Charles Aznavour), who wants to include artist Ashile Gorky as a character in the historical film. Raffi begins to question his identity, his relationships, the memory of his father who died trying to assassinate a Turkish diplomat fifteen years ago, and sets off to Turkey to capture on film the sites of the genocide, hoping that the journey will resolve his internal conflict. On his arrival back in Canada, customs officer, David (Christopher Plummer), stops him, suspicious that Raffi’s film canisters contain drugs.

A routine customs inspection becomes a movie-length affair when Raffi’s interrogation is interspersed with his re-telling of the historical while present day subplots segue effortlessly in and out of the narrative. There’s David having trouble accepting the gay relationship between his son, Phillip, (Brent Carver) and Ali (Elias Koteas), who plays the Turkish lead in Saroyan’s film. Then there’s Celia who refuses to believe that her father committed suicide but instead holds Ani responsible for his death.

Egoyan’s latest film Ararat is heavy fare, not because of its subject matter but that its narrative is frustratingly circular and static at the same time. You begin to wonder as Raffi did – why couldn’t a simple sniffer dog do?

What is admirable though, is that Egoyan uses the themes of trauma, denial and search for truth in the subplots to mirror the historical. Just like David failing to accept his son is gay, the Turks also deny that the genocide took place. When Saroyan places Mount Ararat in the backdrop of Van on set, poetic license overrides fact, paralleling the claims to truth from both sides of the debate.

Egoyan is himself an Armenian, therefore the forgotten genocide is a subject matter close to his heart and his desire to re-tell this story is not only reflected in his characters but speaks for discourse and reconciliation, like in the ending of his film.