“Tevanik”

tevanik-300x275The Armenian director and screenwriter Arnold Aghababov wrote the script of “Tevanik” in 1990s, but the film was not shot during his lifetime for a number of reasons. Already in 2014 Jivan Avetisyan’ “Tevanik” appeared on the screens. Together with the playwright Karine Khodikyan, Avetisyan modified the script turning it into a quarter story about the one day life of a bordering village of Karabakh that has appeared in the center of military operations. The film was awarded the Best Feature Prize in the Armenian Panorama Competition at the Golden Apricot Film Festival.
Unlike Avetisyan’s previous film “Broken Childhood” (2013), “Tevanik” is devoid of false and blind patriotic pathos. It is also to be stated that some scenes were filmed quite accurately in terms of cinematography and in general interesting details are to be found in some parts. Anyway “Tevanik” has not succeeded from the point of view of both its script and directing.
The three parts in the movie aim to depict the life of one day of the village from three different perspectives that are provided by the village children Aram, Astghik and Tevanik. This is a trick that has proved to be very powerful in the world cinematography. But in case of “Tevanik” that unskillful division eventually destroys the drama, the fundamental element of a work of fiction. The point is if there are three interconnected novels, they must enrich and deepen each other. But in the case of “Tevanik” the connection between the novels is so weak that the drama is simply destroyed turning the film into an accumulation of unconnected facts. Roughly speaking, the film is limited to presenting “artistic facts”.
The first part tells the story of young Aram. His father is Armenian and mother is Azerbaijani, who is subjected to the pressure and threats of the local villagers. And some of the residents disparagingly call Aram “a Turk puppy”. His father sorrowfully decides to send her beloved wife and Aram’s younger brother to Azerbaijan. And he and Aram stay in Karabakh…
It is to be understood that Aram’s family situation is simply a “sign” that can develop into a drama only in case of artistic meaning and formation. How can the audience share the feelings of those people whom they saw 20 minutes ago and about whom they know almost nothing? And the most important thing is how we can share their feelings when we know that they are not real characters but imaginary, and each new scene only reinforces that belief. This is not a reality where the above mentioned fact would be enough for an eyewitness to share their feelings. And in order to prove that it is real the work of fiction should take a few more steps, catch all the strings that eventually lead Aram’s father to send his wife and the youngest son to a hostile country. The audience should know that people and make sure that the separation of this family is the only solution to the problem. But in “Tevanik” this hard decision is made at once without preparing the audience. And it is evident that the authors have not thought much of considering the situation more thoroughly. For example if the Armenians show obvious hostility against their fellow villager and his Azerbaijani wife, how can Aram’s father not think that the same thing will not be repeated across the border? He decides to stay in his native village being separated from his family, but isn’t he afraid that the Azerbaijani, in their turn, will call his younger son “an Armenian puppy” and will pursue his mother for being the wife of an Armenian? Apparently this does not even occur to him.
And for all these reasons the scene of the farewell of the family members is not an influential.
The war destroys the family and separates the loving people. This is itself a topic of a whole film. As the authors of “Tevanik” have preferred to divide the film into several parts, “Aram” novel has been allocated a total of 20-25 minutes. During this short period a number of one-sided characters, namely Aram’s grandfather who has given up on his son for a couple of years for getting married with an Azerbaijani woman, and Aram’s uncle who tries to reconcile his father with his brother, but in vain. That scene is meant to represent a grave family situation, but it is done through quite a rough dialogue. The characters are discussing the situation but their conversation remains without consequences. It turns out that the scene aims to convey information to the audience rather to deepen the drama. At the end of the novel there is an instant scene when almost a decade of unrest the grandfather enters his son’s house but it’s too late: at that time Aram’s father is accompanying his wife to the border. No matter how much the music out of the scene is trying to convey sensitivity to the footage, the showing off play of the actors, the rhythmic disharmony of the overall scene do not allow that this moment be estimated in any way.
Of course it is encouraging that the film characters are speaking in a local dialect, however sometimes there is an impression that some of the characters are hesitant to use this language as if they are not sure whether they pronounced it correctly or not. In order to feel this uncertainty it is not necessary to be a linguist. Of course, there are actors who are using the Karabakh dialect in a very natural way.
The second novel is the most innocent of all, the reason of which is perhaps the virtue of the actress playing Astghik’s role. The acting abilities are still to be developed, but the young girl has enough personal charm to carry the novel on her shoulders.
It is interesting that nothing significant happened in the second part. Instead, there are some everyday observations, which are not depicted vivid enough to supersede the influencing drama.
We just see Astghik jumping from one end to another in the village. She is meeting her mother, grandmother. We also learn that all the men in the family are now on the battlefield. Astgik, apparently, is not indifferent to the young Tevanik, but this feature leads tonowhere. The commander of the local Armenian squadron, who is an Armenian from Diaspora, is living in their house. Astgik happens to get the letter addressed to the commander. The letter is from his wife, and from the letter Astghik learns that his wife was against the commander’s decision to leave the peaceful America and to come to Karabakh. However she regrets it now and promises to join her beloved husband soon.
The episode of reading the letter could be exciting. Unfortunately the director intersects Astgkik’s scene with another scene when the coward resident of the village is sitting his two sons in a car and making preparation to leave. And while the quite music is playing the voice of the commander’s wife continues to read the letter during the two footages. It is evident that the authors have created a contrast: some people come from abroad to fight, and some of the local residents prefer to leave. But if they renounced this obvious metaphor and instead used their efforts to get a beautiful, emotional episode, the film would undoubtedly benefit.
The major part of the third novel is based on the original script written by Aghababov, and this is evident as it seems to be a separate, independent story. Independent, but unfortunately not complete one…
This part of the film is primarily known for its extremely vague direction work. The novel starts with the scene of a fight during which you do not know who is Armenian and who is Azerbaijani.
The young Tevanik destroys the tank of the enemy. The fellow villagers are happy but the experienced commander of the squadron is angry as they lost the opportunity of getting a working military equipment because of Tevanik. He decides to punish Tevanik and takes the young man with him to the forest for the exploration. A sniper happens to have hidden here and takes the commander’s life. A moment before his death the commander noticed the enemy and turning around he shouts “Tevanik”. It is not possible for the sniper not to see or hear this. But contrary to the logic the sniper comes out of the trunk, studies the commander’s body and goes to the nearby waterfall to bathe. And Tevanik follows him. This secret pursuit could made a very interesting and tense scene, but as a result of the vague direction and the trite plaintive music the scene is just turned into a long and monotonous wandering in the forest.
Anyway. The sniper starts to release the cloths and suddenly to our surprise and to the surprise of Tevanik hidden behind the rocks, the sniper turns out to be a woman. Moreover, maybe she is the first naked woman that Tevanik has seen. This situation is very interesting and promising and it only remains to open the mouth as Tevanik and wait for the developments. The woman observes the young man and shouts in Russian. Finally the two of them appear in front of each other holding the weapons and…the screen is black and a shot is fired. The film ends with the fact that Aram’s uncle, who was also the Deputy Commander, remembering the alleged wise words of the commander, comes out of her trench and leads his soldiers against the enemy that outnumber them.
Movies, of course, have the right to end so abruptly and indefinitely. But such kind of endings cannot be just like that. They are to be earned. Such an ending itself should bear a semantic accent. And all the scenes presiding the end should be so impressive and satisfying to exclude all the other types of endings.
The ending of “Tevanik” seems to be a mockery, as the film ends at the moment when it should start, when the actions got an interesting and unexpected shade.
In fact this can be stated about all the plot lines of the film. Tevanik’s adventure, the drama of Aram’s family and the commander’s love story remain unfinished and conclude right at the time when they need to start. The dramaturgical trick (the one day depicted from the three point of view) has restricted the authors forcing them to fit that subtle topics in 25-minute incomplete novels. But isn’t is true that these topics deserve more? And the original script written by Aghababov’s apparently had a more classic design. Maybe they should have followed that script. Of course there is no guarantee that in that case the film would be better. But instead it is clear that unfortunately “Tevanik, in its current form, has not succeeded. And the word “unfortunately” is not a question of politeness, as it is a pity that such kind of ideas with great potential have not been expressed adequately.
Arthur Vardikyan

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