By the time “The Journey” reaches its destination, hopes for a fascinating account of a young woman’s return to her Armenian homeland have gotten lost in pic’s cinematic and storytelling banality. The vague ending is one sign that this collaboration between directors Edwin Avaness and Emy Hovanesyan (with co-screenwriter Anghela Zograbyan), though brimming with conviction and technical prowess, lacks a thematic or aesthetic map. Neither a fully rigorous artistic work nor a sufficiently involving tale, pic is likely to lose its key ethnic target audience during limited theatrical Stateside trip, but may pick up adventurous vid store devotees.
The New York of Armenian emigre and hopeful photographer Eve (Sona Tatoyan) appears to be one of frozen domesticity (though out of college, Eve still lives with her parents), routine nights waiting tables at an upscale restaurant and livelier late nights hanging out with girlfriends and picking up guys for one-nighters. Protracted shots underlining Eve’s boring existence suggest the influence of such masters of longueurs as Tsai Ming-liang and Theo Angelopoulos but without these artists’ strong sense of character nuance, social realities and mise en scene.
Refreshingly, Eve’s parents (Roupen Harmandayan, Zenda Tatoyan) actually encourage her photo aspirations, but it is too dramatically convenient that, fresh on the heels of news about her closest friend in Armenia being killed, Eve receives a vague-sounding freelance assignment from a photo-art magazine to cover the strife in the Caucasus region, which includes Armenia.
Latter two-thirds of the film shifts to Eve’s civil war-torn homeland, but because there are no graphics identifying the period (1991, just prior to Armenia’s independence from the old USSR), the historical and political contexts will be lost on all but the most well-informed viewers. “The Journey” fails to either send Eve on the kind of quest that would allow her and auds to have an expansive view of this embroiled land or to re-create the truly desperate conditions which wracked Armenia in the early ’90s.
Instead, a plodding romance between Eve and independence activist David (Tigran Nersesyan) takes the foreground. However, the romance never assumes a life of its own and seems merely a device to pull Eve into discussions about the political struggle.
Individual scenes which Eve shares with a range of attractive and/or charming characters –from her kind grandmother (Varduhi Varderesyan) to new friend Emma (Anoush Stepanyan) –never cohere or build toward any galvanizing idea. Even the hint of physical danger to David by shadowy opposition forces is never followed through on, while the finale celebrating independence is bizarrely anti-climactic.
Although the production marks a fine example of what can be currently achieved with 24P high-def cameras (and why they continue to be vastly superior to any other vid system for film transfer), the physical staging, especially in Armenian locales, is critically unable to visualize wartime conditions or, worse, to do anything creative with the photography of Eve, who is seldom seen actually working at her art.
Only in such scenes as an extended dinner sequence does the acting take on real authenticity; otherwise, the generally pleasant cast is made stiff by relentlessly flat dialogue.
Soundtrack is a troubled mix of second-rate recording and an Alan Derian score that cobbles too many Hollywood scoring cliches.