'Aram, Aram': LAFF Review

Aram, Aram Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Los Angeles Film Festival

Aram, Aram Still - H 2015

Another story of boys in the hood builds unexpected emotional force

A family drama set in the Armenian community of Los Angeles benefits from a sense of novelty.

A mission of the L.A. Film Festival in recent years has been to highlight stories that are intrinsic to Los Angeles. One of the most intriguing and successful of these L.A.-themed movies is Aram, Aram, set in the Armenian community of Hollywood. First-time writer-director Christopher Chambers has crafted a potent, lovingly detailed evocation of an unfamiliar California subculture. Given the novelty of the setting and the recent reminders of the Armenian genocide, the film deserves to be seen. The absence of name actors will present a hurdle at the box office, but an enterprising small distributor might take a chance on the movie. It packs an emotional punch.

Aram (John Roohinian) is a preadolescent boy from Beirut, but when his parents are killed in an automobile accident, he comes to live with his grandfather (Levon Sharafyan), a shoemaker in Los Angeles. Exploring the streets of the neighborhood, Aram is attracted to the Armenian gang culture run by Hakop (Sevak Hakoyan). His grandfather disapproves, but Aram is susceptible to the macho posturing of Hakop and his cronies.

This story has been told in other ethnic corners of Los Angeles, in such films as Boyz N the Hood and A Better Life. So the contours of the script are not original. But the vividly rendered milieu helps to compensate, and the acting by an all-Armenian cast also freshens the familiar tale. Roohinian is remarkably expressive, and Sharafyan conveys the necessary sense of dignity as the grandfather. Hakoyan captures the desperation of a stunted young man searching for a way to belong to a foreign culture, and even the smallest roles are sharply played.

There’s one flaw in the script. Although it could be argued that Aram’s susceptibility to gang culture is at least partly a result of the disorientation he feels after his parents’ death, there’s too little attention to the profound grief that he must be experiencing. Considering that there’s only a one-month gap between the fatal car crash and the boy’s relocation to Los Angeles, we don’t get enough understanding of the sense of loss that anyone in Aram’s circumstances would feel.

Energetic direction helps to sweep us along, however. The score by Katy Jarzebowski, which includes Armenian hip-hop music, also gives the film an electric charge. The last section of the film depends on handheld camera work, and it builds tremendous tension.  Chambers trained as a cinematographer, and he has probably studied the classic opening tracking shots from Touch of Evil and Goodfellas. His direction of this final sequence is remarkably intense, as the filmmaker takes Aram through a dangerous night journey that ends in a deeply moving moment of connection and redemption.

Production company: FMRL media in association with Tilted Windmill and Whitewater Films
Cast: John Roohinian, Levon Sharafyan, Sevak Hakoyan, Alla Tumanian, Inga Stamboltyan Director-writer-cinematographer: Christopher Chambers
Producers: Christopher Chambers, Jared Parsons, Ian Coyne, Nick Cimiluca
Executive producers: Matt Ratner, Rick Rosenthal
Editors: Eugenio Richer, Christopher Chambers, Jim Gilbane
Music: Katy Jarzebowski

No rating, 79 minutes