'1915': Film Review

1915 The Movie Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Prodigy Public Relations

1915 The Movie Still - H 2015

This admirably intentioned effort fails to do justice to its ambitious subject matter

Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian's drama concerns a Los Angeles theater troupe attempting to put on a play about the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

As Pope Francis recently discovered, the 1915 massacre of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey is still a highly controversial subject. The event forms the dramatic subtext of Armenian-American directors Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian's film about a contemporary Los Angeles theater company that finds itself in hot water when it attempts to stage a new play about the genocide. But despite its similarities to Atom Egoyan's 2002 film Ararat, which explored similarly rarified territory, 1915 is a decidedly more amateurish affair whose admirable intentions don't make up for its muddled execution. Its release timed to the 100th anniversary of the tragedy, the film is likely to be of interest only to those passionately interested in the subject matter.

Set largely within the confines of the former movie palace the Los Angeles Theatre, the film takes place during the final rehearsals of a one-night-only play concerning the genocide staged by theater director Simon (Simon Abkarian), previously known for his "quirky ethnic comedies." This production is far from that, as it concerns a romance between a Turkish soldier and an Armenian woman, a theme that has drawn the ire of numerous protestors loudly congregating outside the theater.

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Largely concerned with the backstage intrigue accompanying the venture, the film depicts the often charged encounters among the cast, which includes Angela (Angela Sarafyan), Simon's wife; James (Sam Page), a movie star eager to reinvigorate his theatrical chops; and Tony (Nikolai Kinski, son of Klaus), whose behavior becomes increasingly disruptive. Other characters figuring in the proceedings are the show's well-meaning producer (Jim Piddock) and a malicious (what else?) journalist.

As a series of mishaps begin to demonstrate that the theater is perhaps being literally haunted by the ghosts of the past, the film interweaves the backstage melodrama with a contemporary history lesson about the real-life events treated in the play. Neither element is particularly effective, with the modern-day drama depicted in a heavy-handed style that proves more atmospheric than illuminating.

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Although Abkarian — an actor of Armenian descent who also appeared in Ararat — delivers a compelling turn as the intense director, the rest of the performers mainly founder in their underwritten roles. The novice director-screenwriters are unable to bring much coherence to the muddled proceedings, with the result that the film fails to do justice to its ambitious subject matter. Although many of its principals are Armenian, including executive producer Raffi K. Hovannisian (the country's first minister of foreign affairs) and composer Serj Tankian of the rock band System of a Down (currently embarked on a tour dubbed "Wake Up the Souls" commemorating the anniversary of the genocide), 1915 is too amorphous to have the desired impact.

Production companies: Strongman, mTuckman Media
Cast: Simon Abkarian, Angela Sarafyan, Sam Page, Nikolai Kinski, Debra Christofferson, Jim Piddock
Director-screenwriters: Garin Hovannisian, Alec Mouhibian
Producers: Garin Hovannisian, Alec Mouhibian, Terry Leonard
Executive producer: Raffi K. Hovannisian
Director of photography: Leigh Lisbao Underwood
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Editors: Dan Dobi, Paul Forte
Costume designer: Lauren Oppelt
Composer: Serj Tanakian
Casting: Brad Gilmore

Not rated, 82 minutes