Amerikatsi (The American) (2022)
Amerikatsi (The American) (2022)

Genre: Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: September 29th, 2022 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael A. Goorjian Actors: Michael A. Goorjian, Hovik Keuchkerian, Narine Grigoryan, Mikhail Trukhin, Nelli Uvarova, Jean-Pierre Nshanian, Aram Karakhanyan

 


 

1915

in the Ottoman Empire saw Armenians persecuted, rounded up, and executed (via death marches to the Syrian Desert) by the Turks in a mass genocide. 30 years later in the aftermath of World War II, Stalin offered to pay Armenian survivors – a diaspora now scattered across the globe – to return to the nation of Armenia, currently under Soviet rule. Approximately 100,000 repatriates heeded the call, hoping to reclaim their identity and culture. This particular work of fiction chronicles the misadventures of one such man, though his experiences are unusually tragic (or tragicomic, as it begins).

In 1948, little Ivan gets caught up in a crowd, separated from his mother Sona Petrov (Nelli Uvarova), before he’s rescued by friendly New Yorker Charlie Bakhchinyan (Michael A. Goorjian), one of the repatriates seeking work and reconstruction. To pay thanks, Sona invites Charlie to dinner with her husband Dmitri (Mikhail Trukhin), who offers his help with housing and a job. Unfortunately, Charlie is in over his head; with little understanding of the language (he was removed from Armenia at the age of four) – both Armenian and Russian – limited resources, and fewer friends, he soon finds himself in the “icebox,” a small holding cell prior to interrogation. He’s accused of being a spy to spread counter-revolutionary propaganda to the Soviet people, public displays of religion, and cosmopolitanism – since he was wearing a fancy, polka-dotted tie – and pressured into a confession, all while repeatedly being dubbed an “American idiot.” For these crimes, the authorities wish to lock him up for 10 years of hard labor, though the commander – who happens to be Dmitry – doesn’t want the bad publicity, opting instead to ship poor Charlie off to Siberia.

The unwitting American is in a very serious situation, yet his attitude, the quirky cinematography, and the upbeat music suggest otherwise. Even when he’s in the confines of a decrepit prison, laughed at by a cruel warden and thuggish guards, the flavor is altogether that of a comedy. He’s derided as “Charlie Chaplin” – and proceeds to engage in light slapstick. Unfortunately, when he’s tortured and given a noose to hang himself, it’s difficult to convincingly maintain the airy atmosphere – perhaps akin to the modern interpretation of Chaplin’s own “The Great Dictator.” “I made a deal with a kinda scary lady in there.”

“Amerikatsi” (translating to “The American”) is immediately intriguing due to its conflicting tones and subject matter – a collision that works more as a curiosity than pure entertainment. It could be harrowing and terrifying, but it’s instead an offbeat conundrum; is it a suspenseful cautionary tale or a history lesson or a comedy/drama? Is it a love story? Or a jailbreak adventure? Either way, some of the humor is downright wild – such as when Charlie offers to move ahead in line for a weekly beating session at the hands of an oversized brute, so that he can get back to his cell to live vicariously through observing an alcoholic buffoon interacting with his wife (Tigran [Hovik Keuchkerian] and Ruzan [Narine Grigoryan], respectively) in the house across from the prison (visible for a brief period of time due to a collapsed section of fencing) – as if his personal, private sitcom (itself a potential microcosm for Soviet life) framed by vertical metal bars.

“Hey! No dancing!” Despite being bloodied and bruised and confined for much of the film, Charlie doesn’t appear in perpetual danger – a distinct effect of the continuous comedy infusion. With the eccentricities of Wallace-and-Gromit-styled inventions, mimicry, and Charlie’s unsinkable perseverance (pointedly with a spirited communication caper), the film retains a certain sense of unpredictability – even if it often leads to thoughts of, “where on earth is all of this going?” There is, undoubtedly, commentary on the human condition (including glimmers of generosity and understanding from unlikely sources, perhaps lifted minimally from “The Shawshank Redemption”), sporadically surfacing above the calamity of subjugation and misfortune and violence, as the direction shifts yet again in the second act to a place of mutual betterment and behavioral amendment. Genuinely moving moments arise, made more powerful by the fact that, like the aforementioned concepts of Chaplin, language is unnecessary in conveying universal emotions. To its detriment, however, is an overlong runtime (needlessly stretching out the plot) and a series of coincidences that, while amusing, are a bit too conspicuously cinematic to be entirely fitting – perhaps exactly like the unending conflict in combining humor and despair in the midst of a Soviet prison.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10