On the Old Roman Road” is a thoroughly confused collage of Armenian, Turkish and Kurdish ethnic snippets, casually edited into an abstract thriller about Armenian terrorists running around Rotterdam. For a film that does nothing but pile on bizarre unconnected images, it is curiously lacking in atmosphere and historical insight. This toneless poem to Armenian-born filmmaker Don Askarian’s homeland, produced with the aid of the Hubert Bals Fund, is a road from which even open-minded festgoers will be looking for an exit.
The single thread tenuously holding the story together is the murder of a Turkish secret service agent, who is the descendant of a royal dynasty, and the kidnapping of his son. While boy and captors ride Rotterdam’s canals on a tugboat, Levon, an Armenian writer living in Holland, calls to mind a slew of surrealistic images: beheaded pigeons, hacked hogs, an uncle who digs up corpses to sell their shrouds, another who buries himself in volcanic ash, ethnic photos and drawings, explicit sexual acts with an Asian concubine. One imagines these are the filmmaker’s personal memories, but their function in the film remains a mystery.