Journal : One Scorching Afternoon

… The Memory of Fullness

In that distant town since long lost

Among quarters low

Abathe in winds hot …

The Sun was ablaze

The noon poured fire

And sage mothers

Shut the doors

Downed all windows

And early retired

I lay …

Watch and fidget

That face asleep

Kindness incarnate

Breathing, chest amove

In peace

A hand of love on me

My mother stern

Still voicing concern

That I do not burn

In the inferno

Raging outdoors.

So there I lie, restive

Fiddling festive

Tuned in…

To calls from the Sun

The friends imagined

At games in coppice

In the streets empty

Small spaces free

Under the flaming tree …

But I lie, squirm anxious

Conflicted immense, restless

Between her soft care

The reposing heart pure

Being lined

In her countenance

In the weight

Where her arm rests

With affection

And holds me back

From the world manifest

And God… it is

My mother stern

Still voicing concern

That I do not burn

In the inferno

Raging outdoors.

And there … as I lay

She rolls over

Fading from me

Her magic arresting

Even as my empathy

Happily resonates

With yells beamed in

From the god loving

Who keeps bright

The illumined sights

Among friends in grove

In spaces curious

The flaming “gulmohar”

And all the games

We play under…

Like a loadstone out there

Drawing the wild in me

Causing me to rise

With care extreme

From the mat cool, of straw

Under house cat’s stare

That freezes me dead

Half way through

With a glare that said :

“Are you sure ? Is it fair ?”

But I am far too rushed

By crow calls

That seem so anguished

While still half raised

On an elbow, I chase

My mother’s forgiveness

And bow my spirit

To her small form

How devotedly tall

With rules I well knew

From her sharp blows

By the very arm

I still felt on waist

That tender embrace

Settled serene

And radiating grace.

Hung for ages thus …

Half raised, with feline Probus

My hovering thought

And her stare intense

Before I resolve the variance

Beseech the powers

On-high, for cover

Longing prayerful and deep

That moved the breath

I had held in me

Now certain and free

I decide to reap

My happiness, the mirth

In bright outdoors

Amidst the heat

Among the gods

And the trees

Along forlorn streets…

I stand full height

See the cat depart

And tip-toe carefully

To open the door

And close cautiously

To meet the glory

With a silent yell

The cool out there

On the hot steps

With a heart pell mell

On a muffled start…

I latch back the gate

Touch fondly

Its weathered face

Watching thoughtless

Sensing the bond in place

Before gliding away …

Merry, merry, below

The Flamboyant’s faith

Moving songs of joy

Tingling mottled shade

On gnarled roots bobbed

Like ancient stays

That umbrella bright red

Blooming welcome heartfelt

Between the sun and earth —

A mighty fine mid – day…

I stoop in wonder

Of the streets yet bare

And readily oblige

A scorching wave

And pick up to peel

An unopened bud

Pluck out a stamen

Lock its bobhead

With another proud

To force a war

Of tugs and scars…

But the thought sudden shoots

‘ Where are they, bandicoots ?’

Now collecting the pebbles

I imagine possible feuds

And squat at last

On one exposed root :

‘ Where are they ?’ I dilate

Sketching lines on ground

Crisscross and straight…

Feel the ball, just then

In my trouser pocket

Bump it hard on earth

See it rise to zenith

And catch it on the trot

In one happy swoop …

‘ The game’s on elsewhere !’

One step, then two

Into howling blare

Past houses silent

My raging despair

‘ Implore the parents, shall I ?’

No, that wouldn’t be fine

I feel, bare feet on grass

By the tar road, sparse

Build a sprint for the lark

Glowing fire on my back

I cross the road as it meets

The molten pitch, which sticks

Searing the sole, brisk

I jump over quick

To foot-eroded bricks

On the side path

And launch a canter sudden

Hearing the jingle, anon

Of marbles pocketful

The top unstrung

Spinning, it’s ecstasy

On the run

Swishing the ball mid – air

The baton perfectly swung

Lo ! The kingdom’s come…

The full view gladdens

Green grass, trees mum

And tall coconut palms

Sway to music pleasant

Wide open spaces

Fragrant and cool

A littered drain far

Falling to pieces

The algae on it thick

And dark

Of slithering snakes

Grown huge in the park.

The little king I am

Now free, not a sham

In sun and deep shades

My own escapade

Gained well in time

Constraints untied

At somersaults happy

Below a tree, helping

A girlish weed crushed

Looking over my own bruised knee

Always with an eye

For the pythons of the drain

Calling, aiming, punctuating

With hoops and jumps

Ha – ha – ha…

Times great extend

Till another arrives gleeful

Hailing cheer, wild prattle

Dancing, singing close

Holding warm to pointless laughters

Under a heavens mild

Suppressing a smile …

*    *    *

The illumined momentum of the melee

Today reveal truths

Simple, yet unsurpassed

Glowing undiminished

To this day …

The mother essence of life

That Shangri – la !

*   *   *       *   *   *

MOTHER AND I

MOTHER AND I … … A Tribute

 

 

He, I hear, is terminally ill…

I rush from a city far

To be with the living god

Odor of life churned

In truth and hard earned.

He, indeed, is terminally ill…

I bear his blast of torpid times

Failing body’s morbid mimes

By his bed but I know the best

I’ll be sometime in a future test

 

As he is in my each recall…

Limpid, fearless, standing tall

Loved, friendly, compassionate

Spirit deep, sharp immense.

He now lies terminally ill…

The seer he was is witnessing

In quiet eerie, looks fixed

Through nights stretched

And lost sleep

Resonating of scriptures I read

And It then happened

In quick succession

His withdrawal calm

The last breath

Our wait…

The howling silence

Death…

And cremation.

 

*   *   *

The news drew the shallow heirs

Commiserating, posing, red weird

Stooping low, seeming lower

With eyes stuck on assets meager

Broaching sly their soft claims

Illiberal, covet strange

Set on matters odd

In those hours of pain

 

They trigger brawls

The woman faints of the free-for-all

At the men she’d nurtured

On her love, with care

Were clawing now at her remains

As enemies sworn, pitched against

Heartlessly, in sub human ways.

Their game’s foiled with some wit

Calibrated drama, deliberately knit

It saddened us

Still at the crease

In space secured

Convalesce in peace

Mother and I –  in rally

Devoted, thankful…

Succour each, happily.

 

*   *   *      *   *   *

Journal : MAYRIG ~ The Portrait Of A Mother

:  A Premium Film Review  :

Premium Reviews are not a pageful of matter written over a sitting but are comprehensive treatments running into scores of pages and penned on days spread over weeks… because the subject deserves that space and attention and the effort is worth the value the reviewer himself obtains through the exercise. The presentation is inclusive, well researched, and an entire range of aspects are straddled over to sketch out what the work or creation, band or person under review could mean to the discerning audience.

Premium Reviews etch in the reasons for the reader of the review to visit, watch or read, and know for himself more about the subject reviewed.

Mayrig  ~   The Portrait Of A Mother

I saw Mayrig and its sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, in recent months and have since wanted to review it. It is overpoweringly sublime art, a long poetry of the heart, of love and flowing life and all emotions that engender within us between the two. It is the saga of personal struggle of three generations of a loving close-knit emigrant family, which escapes persecution and certain death, who are forced to survive in a foreign land in very different and largely loveless milieu.

As it reveals, the story is an epic narration in the classic mould. It weaves individual stories with global happenings, and both into the state of times after the First World War. It is about the collective human distrust distinct communities secrete, as was historically between the Moslem Turks and Armenian Christians. It portrays the existential quality of times, the social attitudes and hardships of common people in the first half of 20th Century France. And it deals with the discriminatiing values of native elites in the years post World War II, when the disadvantaged were looked down upon and alien cultural mores were yet shunned.

THE BOOK – MAYRIG 

This book doesn’t say much with it’s title. It is unknown to most readers, unless they are Armenian. It means “mother” in Armenian, and the author starts the book with a simple and sad sentence : “Mayrig is dying.” Then he goes back to his gloomy childhood, and tells a story that astonishes the reader. It is the history of Armenian people; the history of 1915 masacres of 1.5 million Armenians commited by the Turkish government. It is a wonderful piece of literature, an amazing story of Achod Malakian – an Armenian boy, who had to leave his parents’ homeland, adapt to a new society, and adopt the Parade street of Marseilles in France.

The films, Mayrig and 588 Rue Paradis, are adapted from the book ” Mayrig ” authored by the filmmaker himself, Henri Verneuil. The autobiographical book starts with the man at his mother’s deathbed, holding fast to her hand with all the poignancy of a saga behind that moment, reflecting on the story that will no longer be theirs from hereon but his alone. Thence, the journey begins… back to a childhood lovingly remembered, with the fondness we feel for ours and ourself and the tenderness of the mother’s heart at its center.

” It is an odyssey that takes us not only through time but through the complex landscape of relationships and emotional milestones in which the young Achod Malakian, as Henri Verneuil was then known,  grew and attained manhood.

” The steamer to France, the search for a place to live, a poor man’s summer vacation, looking for work, the nightmare of school… these are only some of the themes and places this story will take you. It tells a universal tale of all men and women who, one way or another, are exiled and reborn, heartbroken and hopeful, defeated and triumphant. “

The book is important not only because it is based on real happenings but, too, that the story of one family represents the survival of an entire nation. It depicts with great sensitivity the heritage and life of one man’s rise from a difficult but happy childhood to the very heights of a successful career. It demonstrates how love and care within the family are the cornerstones to our strength and happiness through the hardest of times. And, that nothing is more important for a person in his life than to make his parents contented and proud.

* * *

THE FILM REVIEW 

The review writing hit a block even before its start. There was very little on the web to research from. A Google search for ” Mayrig ” returned more restaurant entries of the same name in Middle East. Hundreds of sites claiming to hold everything about the film had a blank or a four – liner for synopsis. And, an invitation to be the first to write a review !

In brief, Mayrig is a 1991 French film, a semi – autobiographical adaptation for the silver screen, written and directed by French – Armenian filmmaker Henri Verneuil. The film’s principal cast includes Claudia Cardinale and Omar Sharif. It is about an Armenian family that emigrates to France from Turkey in 1921, after the Armenian genocide of 1915. The family boards a ship to escape persecution and the film takes us through their travails, their efforts at setting themselves up in business in Marseilles society, untill the time the son of the family grows up to be an educated young man. The career he chose for himself though, as a dramatist and playwright, terribly disappoints the expectant elders. It is an epic portrayal, with an eventful storyline and a narration fleshing out to fullest the characters constituting the dramatis personea. 

The sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, is where the drama occurs when the adult son recounts his relationship with the aging father, his loving mother, and with his ethnic identity. It starts some forty years after the story begins in Mayrig and takes us back in flashes to the days when he had to give up his cultural identity, including the ethnic sounding name lovingly given by his parents, to gain access to his adopted society and its acceptance of him and his work. He reminisces the part played by his wife in that makeover while climbing the ladder to professional fame and social success. He thinks of his aged parents ( played by Omar Sharif and  Claudia Cardinale ) who still live a modest existence in Marseilles, but with their original names and family identity intact, and of how the material expression of his feelings for them, through tangibles, insults the informal swell of love his elders have always showered on him. He rues the fact that his father dies before he could tell him how deeply and truly he has always felt for him. He subsequently spends much of his time with his mother and buys her an exclusive garden house in her old neighborhood. Later, he returns to Marseilles to buy his childhood home at 588 Rue Paradis, which is full of his happy memories.

Given the high profile star cast of the two movies, it is surprising to know that the films were not dubbed for international audiences or screened with English subtitles until 2006. The two films have since been successfully melded into an interesting whole, and the newly edited and English subtitled version of “Mayrig” was world premiered at the Jefferson Academic Center, Clark University, Massachusetts. 

We will have to make more than one start to review as telescopically complex and complete a presentation as has been made in the twin movies.

* * *

 THE SUMMARY

“Mayrig” is a compelling family drama straddling 40 plus years… a long lyric of emotions portrayed at just the right pitch by actors who fit their part. But it is not they who keep us in ponder or provide the film’s real dramatic heft. In this one, the script is the winner and the director’s deep conviction, rooted in his personal experience, shows in the clear vision of which the acts have been put together and sequenced. The story itself is powerful but it is its understated account, with minimal dialogues and fulsome visuals, that makes for the remarkable effect the film has on us.

The script develops quite a wit, and when Verneuil has something profound to say his film communicates the thoughts and emotions with unmistakable eloquence. It is Verneuil’s personal story, his intensely felt vision, his depth of feeling behind the craft, which infuses conviction into the film and its characters. Verneuil is the director and the film is his masterpiece.

The film is narrated by the adult Azad, the lone son of the Zakarian family. It starts with a recount of the family stepping off the ship on the Mediterranean coast at Marseilles in south-east of France, when the narrator is a mere seven-year old kid. There are nervous moments waiting for the official stamp at the immigration checking counter… Will they be allowd to step up to a new life ? Or, will they have to return to the horrors of the genocide perpetrated by the Turkish government ? Snapshots of those horrors, as remembered by one of the survivors, follow. Apkar is a friend of the Zakarian family already in Marseilles, an important character in the film brilliantly essayed by Jacky Nercessian. He is prematurely old, lame of permanent damage in one foot and carries pneumonial tubercolosis in his lungs… all a result of that fateful journey the Turks hounded him through. But despite the extreme encounters with misery and death, the bonhomie remains in his nature. He lives and laughs, and is even cured of the malaise in his chest, in time. Those scenes of the forced march in the desert are grim and convincing, and lay out what was at stake for the Zakarians while they waited at French immigration.

Then begins the long battle at settling down in the Marseilles society of 1920s, a melting pot of diverse populations drawn from Italy, Spain, Algeria and, of course, Armenia. The gold coins sewed in coat buttons are brought out to hire an abode on a road that has a tramline passing over it. The Zakarian family has one male elder – Hagop, Azad’s father, played by Omar Sharif, who goes out to a job in a factory. But the lone kid in the family has three devoted mothers who find work, first at dressing buttonholes and then as seamstress – Araxi, the mother of Azad called throughout as Mayrig, meaning Mother, enacted by Claudia Cardinale; aunt Anna,  the house master chef of all Armenian delicacies and most openly doting of the three, played by Isabelle Sadoyan; and aunt Gayane, the loving nurse forever aligned with Azad’s heart, potrayed by Nathalie Roussel. Azad takes the tram to the best of French schools in the neighbourhood. In time, the family prospers, Hagop learns dressmaking from the ladies, Azad goes to college, and the Zakarians buy out a property where they open shop as dressmakers and reside on the floor above. 

The prequel shows Azad’s progress up to 1940, when he is about 27 years of age. The entire family invests much love and hope in their young son, Azad. The boy meets much prejudice in his teachers and schoolmates, and little empathy or understanding. But he finds the strength within himself to endure it all, without any permanent damage to his psyche or personality. He has a friend or two but no more. His greatest source of positivity however is the love – filled home which eternally secures him. Totally doted on,  there is no sacrifice or effort the Zakarian elders will not make for his education, career, happiness and well-being. That rootedness becomes the foundation for him to build his understanding of the environment and the people about him, and provides the emotional stability necessary for taking personal risks and growing his capacity for life – to experience, learn and persevere. 

Through the narration however, the film does verge on sentimentality but avoids sliding into unabashed sappiness. There is emotion of all hue – longing, love, despair and joy – but sans vanity… which leaves intact their sweetness, depth, and dignified orientation with the story as it unravels. The director succeeds in keeping the pace with great music and brilliant essays by Cardinale and Sharif, and all the actor ensemble, who are able to communicate with look and gesture than words when the it is most needed.

* * *

THEMES 

The great tragedy that befalls the Armenian people in 1915, earlier in 1896 – 97, and later during the the war with Turkey about 1920… the genocide, massacres, fear and persecution… is like a pall in the background to both Mayrig and its sequel. They movingly allude to the millions then slaughtered, robbed and raped, by the Turks and, rather, to all those who escaped and survived the horrer and refused to let it destoy them. Their entire families are murdered or destroyed, and they have to make a life in a foreign country while trying to deal with the ghosts of their past. Their eyes look forward but the thought is never without the knowledge of the children, pregnant women, old and infirm, who were cut with ” yataghans,” the short sabre that Ottoman soldiers were never without. The brutality of Turkish soldiers and the pain inflicted by kurdist bandits made no sense when entire people from large villages are killed in a day, Armenian priests mutilated for life with cut noses, lips or ears, or innocents subjected to extreme cruelty and the honourable heaped with indignities.

The aspects and themes taken up in Mayrig repeat in the sequel : a boy and his family, life in alien surroundings in a strange country among foreign people, human survival horrors, renewal at life afresh, and carrying on with the legacy and the fact of being an Armenian. We meet Azad, the boy in Mayrig, anew, as a rather gaunt – looking middle – aged playwright. His kindly parents are old but are strangely a source of acute irritation to Azad’s non – Armenian wife.

On his way to success, Azad Zakarian has forsaken his Armenian roots, traded his real name for that of Pierre Zakar and changed his city Marseilles for Paris, where he lives an opulent life. When his parents come to Paris to see him, their interaction throws up such strains that he is forced to reconsider his modern moorings and that inscrutable vanity he finds himself projecting before souls who had none.

* * *

THE BACKGROUND 

The film 588 Rue Paradis starts with news of the acquittal of Soghomon Tehlirian, an Armenian who still in citizen of Turkey living in Germany, who had killed Talaat Pasha in Berlin. The announcement is greeted with elation and everybody is rejoicing because Talaat Pasha was the Minister Of Interior, and later the de facto Head Of The Turkish Government, who had set and overseen the execution of the policy which had made the Armenian dispensable and resulted in widespread massacres between 1915 and 1921.

It was a very peculiar trial in which the defendant said he was not guilty because ” his conscience was clear !” He said, ” I have killed a man but I am not a murderer.” He added that he saw his mother’s corpse, done in by the Turkish Government policies drawn by Talaat Pasha and his clique of Young Turks, which just stood up before him and and told him, “You know Talaat is here and yet you do not seem to be concerned. You are no longer my son.” The events in the background of that trial were very close and important to people of Armenian origin everywhere.

Soghomon Tehlirian had witnessed the 1915 massacre at his hometown, Erzinga, in Asian Turkey. Thereafter, his well – off family went through the hell of displacement and suffered much privation. At his trial, he reported that there had been a massacre in Erzinga in 1894 as well. Some 40,000 Armenians were massacred in Adana in 1909. So, they all lived in fear of a repeat. In May 1915, word had spread that all schools were to be closed and that the leaders of the Armenian community and the teachers were to be sent elsewhere in groups. In June early, the people were gathered, stripped of their money and valuables, and marched out. His parents were killed on the first day of march and the soldiers robbed them of whatever was left with them. He had no idea how many days it had gone on. They cracked open the skull of his brother, raped and killed his sister. He was left injured in the leg and a bleeding arm. He escaped and found shelter and care with an old Kurdish woman’s family, but only untill he had healed.

As a fugitive since then, Soghomon came across news of massacres elsewhere, widespread. Without a hat or shoe, he crossed the mountains into Persia and was arrested by Russian soldiers. In 1916, when the Russians captured Erzinga, he returned to his hometown, only to find that just two Armenian families had survived and both had converted to Moslem faith. Of the 20,000 people in the village, only 20 odd had lived. He dug out 4800 gold pieces the family had hidden in the home, which he found shattered and in ruins. He shifted to another town, learnt Russian language for five months and, in 1919, went to Constantinople, where he placed an advertisement for his lost family members. He moved over to Greece, then to Salonika for curing his nervous disorder, and finally to Paris.

At Constantinople, Soghomon had found out the main culprit behind the massacres, the Armenian genocide. It was Talaat Pasha who, along with Kemal and Erver, had been to sentenced to death by a court martial in the city. Kemal was found and hanged. Living in Paris, Soghomon studied French for a year, then went to Geneva before landing in Berlin, where he hired a tutor to teach him German. It was there that he saw Talaat Pasha and discovered the building in which he lived. Soghomon too moved over to a building in Charlottenburg, just across from Pasha’s residence. He was still a nervous wreck, who played mandolin, took dancing lessons and, as the indictment declared, was a student of Mechanical Engineering. One day, he saw Pasha come out of his building, with all the gruesome images of the massacre in his mind and the wrenching loss of his parents and his family members in his heart. He pulled out the loaded pistol he’d concealed with his underclothes, followed Pasha from across the street untill he came level, then crossed over and shot Talaat Pasha point blank in the head. Upon arrest, Soghomon admitted to the act of killing the killer of his parents and the Armenian people.

At the trial, one of the witnesses co-habiting the same building described Soghomon thus : The defendant lived in my building. I have only complimentary things to say about him. He was very well behaved and modest. I have no maid and, therefore, I do all the housework. The defendant always did whatever he could to make my job easier. For example, he used to polish his own shoes. In every respect, he was decent and modest. In her deposition, the landlady said — He was a kind, modest, quiet, and clean young man. He kept everything in order. On the morning of March 15th, the day the incident occurred, the maid came in to tell me that the defendant was in his room crying. A little while later, I thought I would go up to see how he was doing. I was surprised to find him sitting in his room, drinking cognac. Soghomon clarified that he a took a measure of cognac with his tea to overcome his weak physical condition.

At the same trial, one of the female survivor of the genocide spoke of the massacre in these terms : — Only the men were killed this way. When it grew somewhat dark, the gendarmes came and selected the most beautiful women and girls and kept them for themselves. A gendarme came and wanted me as his woman. Those who did not obey were pierced with bayonets and had their legs torn apart. They even crushed the pelvic bones of pregnant women, took out the fetuses and threw them away… They split open my brother’s head. My mother dropped dead upon seeing this. A Turk came toward me and wanted to take me as his woman; because I would not consent, he took my son and killed him. 

PRESIDING JUSTICE — Is all this realty true ? You are not imagining it ?

WITNESS — What I have said is the truth. In reality, it was much more horrible than it is possible for me to relate.

The complete transcript of the trial proceedings is available @ http://bit.ly/w0Al32 . There are undeniable facts on record here, on the religious and political drives that made an entire Armenian population dispensable in the eyes of the Turkish Governement ! Not much different from what the Jews meant to the Nazis during World War II.

* * *

DRAMA, IN THE SEARCH OF SPIRITUAL AUTHENCITY 

Such was the background to Soghomon Tehlirian’s acquittal, with news of which the film 588 Rue Paradis begins. It triggers the flashback in Pierre Zakar’s mind… that comes on the screen… the life of an Armenian family, his own, that emigrated to France. The content of that life plays out – those people, situations, events and times, when the family embarked for new lands, as it adapted to new ways and renewed itself to a settled status in French society. The genocide scenes appear in context, as an Armenian immigrant tells them about what he had witnessed during those desert marches graphically described by witnesses during the trial of Soghomon Tehlirian.

Of all the horror sequenced before us, one in particular stands out. An Armenian man begs the Turkish officer leading the march for a new pair of shoes. His shoes are in tatters and his feet are bleeding. The officer asks him to hop on his horse, promising to get for him a new pair of shoes. He takes the man to the nearest village, to a blacksmith. The blacksmith’s assistants take the man from the horse and carry him into the shop. Before long we realise, they nail the horseshoes to his bleeding feet, amid the man’s wild cries and sky-splitting screams… an instance of brutality and terror that will not go away and, if it did, would never be too far from recall.

The film is the story of Pierre Zakar’s life, of the extraordinary people about him – his devoted mother, dedicated father, and his two loving aunts. It includes tales of his survival through nightmarish schools, fatal illness, difficult career, discordant marital life, and his increasingly distant Armenian roots. Thus ponderous, Pierre rediscovers the abundant love from his past then tugging at his heart. It fills him with an immediate sense of deep loss reflecting in the quality of relationship he now has with his parents, who still live their ethnic cultural affections without the least need to hide, shed or forget. Pierre then knows that he has found his professional and social success at the expense of his cultural roots and familial ties.

There he was, Pierre Zakar aka Azad Zakarian, a handsome man grayed at the temples, deep in thought. He remembers that incident in his childhood when he was invited to a tea party. The invite was not from a friend, but from an acquaintance who was very rich. The little boy, Azad, was not very well to do and was not very clear why he was invited. On the day, his family struggles hard to make him as presentable as a prince. His mother waits outside the house while he goes in and gets humiliated before coming back to her. Never did he let her know of that mortifying shame he had experienced because of his ethnicity.

There is intense drama in the internal being of Pierre Zakar, who then regains the authentic ” Azad ” he has forgotten but had always been. It was Azad Zakarian, son of Araxi and Hagop Zakarian and fostered by aunts Anna and Gayane Zakarian, who had become the renowned writer and dramatist Pierre Zakar believed he was. His plays performed across the world.  He was married a French publisher, into the affluent elite of Parisian society. He enjoyed both wealth and fame, living a rich lavish life with his daughter and son whose second name was Zacharia. He often remembers little events from his childhood and thinks of his Armenian roots, but only in passing back to his current reality as Pierre Zakar, the famous playwright and member of acclaimed social status in mainstream French society of Paris.

But then his father comes over to meet him and is palpably distressed due to the alienation between his son and the family. He suffers a heart attack, making Azad feel accountable. As the revived Azad, Pierre reminiscences of his modest childhood, and more acutely after the death of his father. The person he was, the Azad Zakarian he had repressed, arises. He reunites with his mother, Mayrig, dedicating himself to providing her with a wonderful life. He changes his name back to Azad Zakarian. His children begin to identify themselves with their Armenian roots. His French wife leaves him. He commits more of himself to Armenian culture and fulfilling Mayrig’s dream of restoring the family to the their prior glory in Anatolia before they had fled Turkey. He buys her a place on the same street bigger than that of the ‘friend’ at whose party he was embarrassed as a child. The address of the house is 588 Rue Paradis.

The film ends with Azad Zakarian basking in the warmth and glow of his memories that will inspire his next play…

 

To the audience, the movie comes together with an atmosphere so warm and enveloping that it feels as if it was in our own dream – one after our very heart. There is such profusion of love and generosity in the compassionate exiles that their stark pain is apparent, even without a mention, their conflicts leave us secure, and their vicissitudes do not jarr. Their aching sadness, so exactly captured in the melancholy music that comes to fore in the background, seems sweet and full of hope. It is a story we want to hear, laugh and cry with, be happy and unhappy about. 

And thus it goes… from frame to frame, scene to scene, act to act. Untill its end wakes us up into the exclusive awareness of rare wonder the film was !

* * *    * * *

HENRI VERNEUIL

Director Henri Verneuil was born Achod Malakian of Armenian parentage on October 15, 1920, in Rodosto, Anatolia, Turkey His family fled to France and settled in Marseilles when he was a young child. He later recounted his childhood experience in the novel Mayrig, which he dedicated to his mother and adapted it into a 1991 film with the same name. He followed it up with a sequel, 588 Rue Paradis, the following year.

Verneuil enrolled in 1943 at the Ecole Navale des Arts et Métiers at Aix-en-Provence, where he studied engineering. He then pursued a career in journalism, working as the editor-in-chief of the magazine Horizon in 1944-1946 and as a film critic for a Marseilles radio station. In 1947, he had an idea for a short film set in Marseilles and proposed it to the famous comedian Fernandel. The comic liked it, and thus began a long-lasting partnership which produced such popular film hits as Forbidden Fruit, The Sheep Has Five Legs, and The Cow and I.

Henri Verneuil is seen as one of the most important figures of French cinema. In 1996, he received an honorary Cesar Award, a French Oscar of sort, for his contribution to cinema. His most successful movie is considered to be La Vashe et le Prisonnier (1959). He worked with several famous personalities of French Cinema like Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alan Delon. In spite of his considerable success, his most cherished dream was to make a movie about the Armenian Genocide and he accomplished this with Mayrig. 

” Mayrig is the tale of the odyssey of Azad Zakarian’s ( the alter ego of the filmmaker ) family… from persecutions in Anatolia to their arrival in Marseilles, with all the difficulties by the “Middle Eastern” families meet in their attempt to integrate into the French society of that time.

” The narration is carried out through the intertwining of two parallel stories : one, of the Zakarians in the course of their integration into Marseilles society, and the other one, in flashback, of the deportations undergone by the Armenian people in Anatolia.

” The movie has gruesome scenes when it recounts the genocide, where the sadism of Turkish soldiers is portrayed, but it also has the sublime love and boundless empathy and care the Zakarian family members have for each other. The arrival of Zakarians at Marseilles is described as everything but easy : this is apparent from the scene where they discover a colony of coackroaches but decide not to kill them because, they tell each other, “At any rate, if they chose our home, it means that they don’t despise us Armenians.”

” A tender and moving film that by telling about the tiny daily reality of a family belonging to the diaspora succeeds in narrating the story of the whole Armenian people.”

Henri Verneuil died in January 2002.

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Excerpts Of An Interview With Actress, Claudia Cardinale …

How did you get a role in Mayrig ?

I did a film in Paris with Henri Verneuil in 1959 and then, many years after he asked me to do this one. The story and the movie… It was incredible. It was a very long movie: when I started my heroine was 35 years old and when I finished she was more than 80. It was also fantastic because I met Omar Sharif, whom I first met in Tunisia, when I was 15 years old.

Was it difficult for you to be in the role of an Armenian mother ?

No, I was an Armenian mother, as the film director wanted. Verneuil is a marvelous director. He tells you what to do while you have to understand him and do exactly what he wants. That’s important, especially for that kind of story. It wasn’t difficult. I was 52 years also and I played totally different roles – from princess to a courtesan. Each role is a life and I have been living a large number of lives, totally different. I like to change.

When you do a movie in front of the camera you become the other one. And live apart. The most important thing is to separate yourself and the plot, otherwise you may lose your personality. You have to change all the time and to do so you have to be very strong.

Reverting to Mayrig film again… Do you have anything to add ?

It’s difficult to remember every detail. But I do remember that it’s a marvelous story, a real story. My mother was in love with this film. She is not here anymore; she left us 10 years ago. It was often on television in Italy. And she often called me to say, “Claudia, Mayrig is showing on TV.”

It’s sad that Henri Verneuil is not here anymore. It would be fantastic to be together here this evening. I’m going to see this film tonight. It’s a long time I haven’t seen it…

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A Reviewer Writes …

” I am Armenian. Well… my father is Armenian and he was born and raised in France. He then decided to move to Quebec (Canada) to study but ended up staying here and bringing his parents. My mom is French-Canadian. I went to Armenian school and so I speak, write and read it. My grand-mother was one of the survivors of the genocide. She passed away a few months ago at the age of 98.

” What does this have to do with the movie, you ask ?

  Everything. It has everything to do.

” This movie made a lot of sense to me. Yes, the parts about the genocide were heartbreaking but I’m also speaking about the alienation the family feels after moving to France and how they try to adjust their values with the ones from this country they now live in.

” Being Armenian and French-Canadian has caused me many headaches. And though today I am very proud of both cultures, the major differences between them sometimes still leaves me in a place of no man’s land.

” And the love we feel between the family members in the movie is VERY realistic. After the genocide, it is love that saved the survivors from a life full of resentment. Sticking together and loving each other with all of their hearts and souls was the only way to move on. Not forget. We can never forget. But in order to put those dark days behind us and be happy again, we needed this love.

” The way the parents genuinely sacrifice themselves for the happiness of their son is something I am very familiar with. My father did the SAME thing for me and for my brother. Armenian parents are like that. But with this great generosity and unconditional love comes great expectations. Of how we should live our lives. About what we need in order to be truly happy. And they care SO much. They literally live and breathe through us in a way. If we succeed, they succeed. If we are happy, they are happy. If we are sick, they are sick.

” I’m not saying that if we fail, they fail. They are very supportive and as long as you do your best, they are always proud of you. And trust me when I say that we love our parents with all our hearts and are grateful for all that they did and all that they still do.

” I am so proud to be an Armenian. I am so proud of the strength of my people who not only lost everything and had to build from scratch but did it in the best possible way to give the children of tomorrow the chance to hope for something better.

” But being an Armenian gives you a responsibility. In memory of those who died but mostly, of those that survived and made it possible for YOU to be alive today. We have a responsibility to never give up on ourselves and on those who brought us into this world. And this feel of responsibility will be passed on to our children and so on. And as a child of the third generation, I find it sometimes hard to know what part of me wants what it wants because I really want it or because I know that this is what my family wants for me.

” It’s not a bad thing… but it’s a thing and at the age of 26, I’m not done trying to figure it out. So I guess this movie helped me in a way… It helped me understand myself. Understand where I come from. And where I’m going…”

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 SYNOPSIS OF A STUDY ON ORAL TRADITION AMONG GENOCIDE SURVIVORS

Children of Genocide survivors tell primarily historical narratives which exhibit detachment of their parents’ experiences and memories. Grandchildren of Genocide survivors tell narratives which have liturgical aspects in which their grandparents are seen as Christian martyrs. Great-grandchildren of Genocide survivors tell narratives that have acquired a mythical connotation as the stories are intertwined with family history and political aspirations regarding the Turkish government. These findings are a result of narrative analysis and comparison in which the tools of linguistics, discourse analysis, and literary analysis were used to observe pronoun utilization, narrative evaluations, repetition in discourse, and evocation of details and imagery. While certain sociologists have questioned the relevance of the past within the present with respect to persecuted people and traumatic events in history, this study illustrates how this particular event has, through time and space gained significance within the younger population of the community. The findings lend insight to the historical progression of memory through time, as well as the longevity of a diaspora community. Furthermore, this study is a testament to the emotional reverberations of genocide, and the specific role and place that oral histories occupy within education.

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CINE PRESENTATION OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

The best-known novel to deal with the Armenian Genocide was written by an Austrian Jew, Franz Werfel, in 1933. The Forty Days of the Musa Dagh was translated into over twenty languages and became an international best-seller. The novel is about the siege of the mountain village of Musa Dagh, where a group of exhausted and poorly armed Armenians were able to resist a Turkish attack for forty days before being rescued by French warships. Its potential as a Hollywood epic was immediately seized upon. Yet, despite repeated attempts by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ( MGM ) to translate this important story onto the screen, Turkish pressure on the U.S. State Department prevented the film from ever being made.

Besides some scenes dealing with the Armenian Genocide in Elia Kazan’s 1963 classic America, America, the historic event was not really touched upon again until the French-Armenian director Henri Verneuil, born Achod Malakian, the son of genocide survivors, told his autobiographical version of the event in his 1991 film Mayrig, starring Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale. However, even the presence of such a star – cast and substantial production budget, Mayrig failed to find international theatrical exposure. Indeed, the only other dramatic feature films that have dealt with the after effects of this trauma — Don Askarian’s Komitas and Henrik Malian’s Nahapet — have received only limited distribution despite their artistic merits.

In both these later films, the viewer is engaged by the eponymous survivors as they try to deal with the burning memories of the genocide. Nahapet ( the very name means the head of a large family group ) is seen at the beginning of the film as he crosses the border from historic Western Armenia into the fledgling Caucasian state. His memories come flooding back throughout the film, most poetically in a flashback where hundreds of red apples fall off a gigantic tree ( or family tree ) on the banks of a river, where they rot, turning the sky – blue waters bloody. Eye – witness accounts tell of thousands of bodies floating down the river Euphrates during the genocide, and Malian’s cinematic interpretation of this horror is stunning in its beauty and restraint.

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