The Wind of Emptiness” is Haroutuin Katchatrian’s excellent exploration of alienation and rootlessness among Armenian exiles. Weaving real and fictional material in cinema verite style, pic should find auds on the international film fest circuit and in retrospectives of Armenian cinema, which is virtually unknown in this country.
Film opens with documentary video footage of a 1988 freedom rally in Yerevan’s Opera Square, attended by one million people. Armenian pop singer Ruben of Yerevan (Ruben Hakhvertian) entertains the crowd with political songs that celebrate freedom and condemn totalitarianism.
Narrative then follows Ruben and Plush (Gevorg Aghegian), his terminally ill friend, as they travel across the former Soviet Union, interviewing Armenians living in self- or imposed exile. Pic raises existential questions about national identity and the meaning of home, literally and figuratively.
In Moscow, the first of three stops, the two men attend a party where their boisterous friends try to amuse themselves with eating, drinking and singing, but an aura of doom and despair hangs over the gathering.
The centerpiece, which is the most interesting, consists of a long, sad interview with a painter in Estonia’s Tallin Square. “I’m tired of this world,” he says, “I’m running away from myself. I’m going mad, I don’t know who I am.” For the painter, there is no difference between the Russian and previous Turkish domination; the changing slogans of internationalism, perestroika, glasnost have no particular meaning. The painter also painfully discusses the plight of artists in an authoritarian regime that completely controls the arts. But with all the gloom, he expresses some hope for the future. “I don’t want our children to be wanderers,” he says.
In the last segment, set in a remote Siberian fishing village, a theater director throws himself with gusto into his work. “I vanished into the air,” he says in an attempt to rationalize his weightless life, “I am never alone. I live with history.”
Visuals are strong, particularly the long shots of Siberia’s desolate and barren landscape in the dead of winter. Symbolism is extensive, at times heavy-handed; a languid close-up of a fish out of water is meant to signal Plush’s state of mind.
When Plush dies, Ruben takes his body back to his family in Armenia. The last powerful images, a succession of shots of earthquake-devastated Armenia, render broader context to both Plush’s death and a country wrought by disasters, natural and military.
It is a testament to the film’s power that, despite dealing with a very particular time and place, it also brings out the universal values of survival. “The Wind Of Emptiness” provides a painful demonstration of personal and political alienation among exiles desperate to find some meaning in their daily existence.