The film making crew of Ashot Hakobyan’s film “In the Camp” state that it is the first children’s film of the independent Armenia. According to the film idea a group of teenagers get together in a summer camp, where they soon make friends and take various adventures together. Headed by a smart girl named Lucy the children “declare war” to the other campers who mock them, then they challenge the head of the champ: a stubborn but a good-natured person. The films is starring young singers Dalita and Karen Ohanyan.
Notably if we deal with children’s film it doesn’t imply that the evaluation standards should be lenient. Just the opposite, it can be stated that their criticism should be stricter than in the case of other films. The primary audience of a children’s film is, of course, children, who have just started to develop their perception and taste and whose mind is open to any idea. In fact a film maker claims personal responsibility for the “information” transferred to their mind.
It is out of doubt that the authors of the film “In the Camp” had good intentions when making a film about friendship and unity and showing that it was possible to spend a good time even without a computer. Unfortunately it can be stated that they were limited to that good intentions…
For decades the American cinematography has created a common formula for such films and the film “In the Camp” follows that formula but superficially. Thus it is well known that if at first Lucy hates the camp she should like it in the end, if the campers mock and slander newcomers, in the end they should make friends with each other. If in the beginning the head of the camp seems to be a bad and unfair person, in the end it should be found out he is a kind and friendly person. But it is not explained how the characters reach from one point to the other, whereas the process and the motifs of such changes are always more interesting that the change itself. The bare fact can also be learnt from the newsfeed as well, but a work of art is attractive and valuable by the fact that it shows what is hidden behind the fact.
The film just expects the audience to accept the above mentioned metamorphoses without questioning them. For example in the final scene when Lucy and her friends are going to leave the camp the children of the neighboring camp who have only mocked and humiliated them during the whole film, approach them. And now, you don’t know why, all of them cordially embrace each other and wish good luck. This may be justified by the criteria of the film formula but not by the logical development of the events. In the same final scene the nurse, who has mercilessly rejected the flattering of the coach, now responds him positively without any reason. In short there is an impression that some important scenes have been left out.
The plot development is not logical, so are the characters. They are not human beings and don’t live when taken out of the film. Instead of recognizable human characters they are given some whims and fancies. Let’s say one of the children is fat and it is his only “feature” as a character. He always wants to eat. And another child needs to urinate all the time. And in spite of the fact that they both are always with the primary character and take part in the adventures of the campers, it remains unclear what kind of person they are or what makes them do this or that thing. For example, in the first scene the head punishes Lucy because of misinformation, but the girl’s friends (including the above mentioned two heroes) decide to share that punishment with her. Before that they appear together in a few minor scenes and now they are already friends. How was that friendship born?
And the children don’t behave themselves like friends. Sometimes they use some funny facial expressions, apply extreme theatrical expressiveness but they mainly seem to be uncertain in front of camera. They just seem to pronounce the memorized dialogue mechanically. Sometimes they don’t even look at each other’s faces when talking.
But to be fair it should be stated that the children just do whatever is written in the script and the way the director tells them to do. The most talented artist would find it difficult to cope with such dialogues. For example in one scene a girl, who is to be perceived as a negative character, loudly complains of their squad leader: “Who is he to tell me what to do?” Lucy, who respects and loves the leader, gives the following response: “Can you tell me what the word “purity” means?” After keeping silent for a moment the confused girl looks at her friend next to her who is also astonished and doesn’t know what to say. Then Lucy smiles in a triumphant way…
Such examples are numerous. There are scenes that are completely unnecessary. One of the boys tells the other that he cannot find some objects that they need to prepare the naughty act, then they run to Lucy and tell the same thing to her. Perhaps they should have limited to the second scene when Lucy learns the issue. There is no need for the audience to hear all the same thing twice in a row.
Together with the dramaturgical defects the visual narrative also seems to be chaotic. The accelerated and slow-motion footages and different sound effects found in the film are taken from the similar foreign films. Borrowing itself is a normal phenomenon but in the case of “In the Camp” these tricks simply exist for the mere existence.
The quality of those episodes is at least suspicious in terms of operating and installation works. And this refers not only to those episodes but to the whole film. The image seems to be empty and unattractive. It has no depth. There is an impression that the background is completely forgotten and filled with random people and objects. There are a lot of cases when the light of the image drastically changes when turning from one footage to the other. In one of the scenes it is 4 o’clock in the morning but because of the light penetrated from the windows it becomes obvious that it is early morning or cloudy evening.
The musical composition is another issue. Although the film soundtrack is original it seems to have already been heard a thousand times. It is one of those heartbreaking soundtracks that seems to force the attitude that, according to the authors, the audience should have towards this or that scene living no room for individual interpretations. Correctly applied film music offers or directs rather than forces.
The technical defects of the film “In the Camp” are numerous. The above mentioned is only a small percentage of them. But the major issue of the film is dramaturgy. When speaking about the film the news agencies praise it noting that it is full of contradictory characters. In fact they are not contradictory, but rather incomplete as we it was found out. As a result of the faulty characters and story the film creates quite suspicious and odd manifestations of love and friendship. Let us remember “the love” of the nurse and the coach, the unexpected friendly attitude of the campers at the end of the film and many other plot lines not mentioned here.