Diaspora Film Festival – Calendar (1993) by Atom Egoyan

Two nights ago I volunteered at the Diaspora Film Festival in Toronto. (For those of you who do not know what Diaspora means: Diaspora is the dispersion of people from their original homeland. And so these movies are primarily about these kinds of people, and these movies are made all over the world, lots of which are in different languages with english subtitles.) We watched Calendar by Atom Egoyan, which is a movie about a photographer who is sent to Armenia to take pictures of churches for a calendar. He slowly begins to realise that his wife, an Armenian translator, is falling in love with their driver and unofficial guide, Ashot. They grow more and more distant from each other and finally separate. Later, at his home in Toronto, he uses an escort agency to invite a number of women to dinner, finally settling on the one who looks and sounds most like his wife.

I actually enjoyed this movie, regardless of it’s slow progression. The non-HD effect actually added to it’s cinematic texture and worked well with the context of the film.

The style of the film is what really intrigued me about this work. The film is narrated by the photographer. Interactions between the photographer, his wife, and their driver were largely improvised. The story is told almost entirely from only three locations: In Armenia, at the photographer’s dining room in Toronto, and by the photographer’s answering machine.

Every scene in Armenia is viewed from behind a camera as the photographer prepares to take pictures of the churches; his wife and driver speak to him while looking directly at the camera. The scenes were shot with a video camera, which makes the experience seem more authentic. I liked seeing the characters speak directly towards the camera, because it seemed like they were talking directly to us – the audience.

The scenes in the dining room feature the photographer having dinner with women from the escort agency. Each date follows almost exactly the same pattern: The photographer and his date converse briefly, the photographer pours the wine, and the date excuses herself to use the telephone in the next room while the photographer listens. It is revealed on the last date that this pattern was set up prior to each date, and that this is his way of finding a woman who sounds like his wife, although his motives for doing so are left ambiguous.

The photographer’s answering machine sits beside the Armenian calendar, which marks the passage of time throughout the movie. We learn of the state of his marriage through the messages left by his estranged wife. Another thing I noticed about the Armenian churches as the movie progressed, was the fact that each one was more destroyed than the last. Later on, when we got to speak to the director, I found out that these churches symbolized the disintegration of the narrator and his wife’s relationship/marriage.

I did some research on the critical reception of this film, and most of them were positive. It has a 100 percent rating at Rotten Tomatos and was nominated for Best Achievement in Direction and Best Screenplay at the 1993 Genie Awards.  Stephen Holden of the New York Times said of the movie,

“If Calendar, like such earlier Egoyan films as The Adjuster and Speaking Parts, has to be pieced together backward, it is so finely constructed and beautifully acted a movie that its game of detective is quite enticing. Seamlessly edited, the film sustains a visual rhythm that is as confident as it is edgy.”
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