Arby Ovanessian

Sog.: from the novel The Fountain of Heghnar (1935) by Mkrtich Armen. Scen.: Arby Ovanessian. F.: Ne’mat Haghighi. Int.: Arman, Mahtaj Nojoumi, Jamsheed Mashayekhi, Parviz Pourhosseini, Fakhri Pazouki, Faramarz Seddighi. Prod.: Arby Ovanessian, Telfilm. 35mm. D.: 96’. Bn.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

A rare gem of the Iranian New Wave, Cheshmeh is a film of unravelled mysteries and repressed longings; like a lullaby, it draws you into a dream state without offering up specific meanings. Perhaps because of this it benefits from repeated viewings, to figure out its simple yet perplexing storyline – in which a Muslim woman seems to be the love interest of two men (one a Christian), and married to a third. The forbidden love and interwoven fates are destined to end in tragedy, but the film leaves what potentially comprises a tragedy off-frame. The camera always arrives only when someone is already dead. With the screening of Cheshmeh, Il Cinema Ritrovato makes an important addition to the chapter it began in 2017, in discovering the cinema of Iranian-Armenians. If the works of Samuel Khachikian were curiously devoid of specifically Armenian elements, this film by Arby Ovanessian fully embraces its cultural roots, magically blending them with Iranian traditions. Despite its richness in Armenian details and a story loosely based on The Fountain of Heghnar (1935) by Armenian author Mkrtich Armen, the film also shares a significant number of threads with the Iranian New Wave films, particularly in its sense of isolation, angst and fear of strangers. Closer to the avant-garde than the realist traditions for which Iranian cinema is often celebrated, Ovanessian nevertheless seems capable of making a film with only alleys, trees and streams while still ensuring that the story, or rather the feeling of it, holds together. If Jacques Rivette was masterful in evoking the mysteries of public parks, Ovanessian captures the melancholic magic of private gardens in Persian culture, where branches are bent heavy with the fruits of guilt and desire. A graduate of the London Film School, Ovanessian became a legendary theatre director in Iran and famously collaborated with Peter Brook in staging Ted Hughes’s Orghast in Shiraz. He translated the works of Samuel Beckett into Persian and matches the Irish playwright’s resolve for quietly reaching the bare, rocky core of a particular situation. In this, his only feature film, he reduces key movements to such minimal gestures that there’s always the danger that they will pass unnoticed.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

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