I’m cheating a little bit at Blogging 101 for this post. My “new element” for this prompt is the introduction of a new series of film reviews tentatively called “Hipster Headache,” written using my inner hipster. Occasionally I enjoy watching movies that aren’t intentionally awful. In this new series, I’ll review whatever indie, foreign, or forgotten films strike my fancy.
This post is dedicated to you, dream reader. I suppose that is essentially just someone who gets my humor and doesn’t find my irreverence offensive.
First in this series?
The Lark Farm. You’ve probably never heard of it. It’s Italian.
Where to Watch?
You’ll have to borrow, rent, or buy; otherwise hope it’s hidden in some dark corner of the internet. Netflix is so mainstream.
Our film follows Nunik, a young Armenian woman who lives with her family in Turkey, through the Armenian genocide in 1915 and its aftermath.
The Uncondensed Version?
This is a rather mysterious film on my list because I have no recollection of how, when, or why I decided I would like to watch this movie. All I could remember was that it had something to do with WWI, and, since it’s the centennial of the war’s start, I thought I should write about at least one related film. I keep forgetting about the centennial even though my calendar for this year is WWI propaganda and then feeling bad about it. Since this film focuses on the Armenian genocide, I suppose I still haven’t really appropriately acknowledged WWI.
The movie begins with a close-up shot of grapes. I’m still not completely sure why; maybe they’re a symbol for the luxury and vitality of life in the pre-war period. Possibly because this movie is Italian, and you’ve got a lot of grapes and wine in Italy. There’s also the whole wine/blood of Christ thing. Maybe just because grapes are tasty and a nifty portable snack. Any or all of the above.
After we’ve seen a lot of grapes, the old patriarch of the family dies, but not before having a vision of blood and telling the family they must leave immediately. (This movie may actually be a retelling of Watership Down.)
The Turkish and Armenian community will be (briefly) united for the patriarch’s funeral. Our protagonist, Nunik, is pretty pumped for the funeral because she’ll be able to see the sexy Turkish soldier she’s been crushing on. She pretty much spends the entire funeral giving the Turkish soldier “come hither” glances. This movie is going to end like The Sound of Music, isn’t it? Except with everyone dying.
The next day, the Turkish soldier visits Nunik and asks her to run away to Europe with him. I’m really not sure if going or staying would be a better option at this point.
The homeless Turkish guy who is a friend of Nunik’s family overhears their plan and reports it to the soldier’s commanding officer. The soldier gets the choice of being sent to the Russian front or being demoted and escorting the Armenians out of the country. He chooses the former.
This is interspersed with a lot of debating behind closed doors about the relative value versus threat of the Armenian people. As always with closed door discussions, there is a lot of snooping behind curtains and the like, which led me to anticipate Shakespearean-level misunderstandings and stabbings.
Soon after, the heads of all of the Armenian households are ordered to report to the prefecture. Unsurprisingly, very few of them actually go. Nunik’s family and several other members of the Armenian community flee to their remote property, the Lark Farm. Another not-so-shocking revelation: this ends terribly. The homeless guy is forced to show the Turks where the farm is. When they arrive, the Turkish troops kill all of the boys and men, then force the women to begin a death march.
At this point, everyone in Nunik’s family has died or is on the death march. All of the Turkish soldiers are completely awful except for one who is kind of decent. Nunik begins a sexual relationship with him, and he gives her bread for the children.
Meanwhile, the homeless guy feels terrible for betraying the family, so he and their maid plan to help them escape. Their big plan is to drive a wagon to the line of Armenians, then smuggle them out at night. Yeah. That’s the big plan…which actually WORKS. Mostly. Somehow the homeless guy is able to approach Nunik in broad daylight and tell her to be ready for the escape that evening.
Nunik goes to see the decent-ish Turkish guy that evening, as usual. He tells her he has asked for a transfer closer to home, and promises to take her with him. She says she won’t be going with him, and actually TELLS HIM SHE PLANS TO ESCAPE TONIGHT. He becomes enraged, threatening to tell the other soldiers if she doesn’t agree to stay, reminding her that anyone who tries to escape is burned alive and beheaded.
Eventually, the Turkish guy decides to let her go. However, as Nunik and her family escape, one of the girls screams after she drops an apple. (Children. Ruin. EVERYTHING.) Her family runs to the wagon, while Nunik runs back to the camp in an effort to distract the soldiers. It appears she will be burned alive when the decent-ish Turkish guy appears. He kills her quickly so she won’t suffer as much.
After the war, he testifies in court about the events of the massacre. When the judge asks who he is accusing specifically, he says, “Myself” because he killed the woman he loved. This scene might have been more convincing to me if he hadn’t threatened to have her BURNED AND BEHEADED shortly before.
There’s nothing as painful as a sincere but awful war film. I felt bad that I didn’t feel any sympathy for the characters, then I felt bad because I felt the directors cared a great deal about this movie but it still fell short, and then I felt bad for the real victims of the Armenian genocide who receive this film as one of the few tributes to their memory.
I just didn’t care about any of the characters, and it didn’t really bother me that terrible things happened to them. So either I have a heart of stone or the film failed to establish sympathetic characters and evoke any feelings of compassion. Both could be true but, since I’m the critic, I blame the film.
It might have been more interesting for one of the children to reflect years later on how Nunik saved them. Or even for the decent-ish Turkish guy to be haunted by what he had seen and done.
Also, the first Turkish soldier was a completely unnecessary character in this film. This is a comparatively minor issue, but he appears on the front cover of the DVD case even though he’s in the movie for about 15 minutes. Maybe he’s a big star in Italy? That’s the only logical explanation.