Atom Egoyan: Calendar (1993) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Atom Egoyan: Calendar (1993)

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Andrew COMMENTARYToo much self-reflection can be a bad thing.  Egoyan's movies have, in some sense, used technology as an exploration of identity as well as that statement.  Everyone thinks about how they appear on the screen, how they sound, if their movements are in the right direction, and how they can reposition themselves to appeal better to others.  They're so reflected on the self that they forget to project something to others.

The complete reversal of this idea is present in Calendar, a film that presents a departure from a number of features in Egoyan's previous films.  This isn't to say that he's completely abandoned the ideas of technology and identity, but they're formulated in a different way here.  Instead Egoyan presents two characters that are totally comfortable being themselves, oblivious to the technology, and a man who could have used some degree of reflection to figure out what was going on.

Calendar is best described as a sort of experimental documentary.  Egoyan steps in front of the camera to play a photographer who has been sent on assignment to Armenia to create a calendar.   His wife (real-life wife Arsinee Khanjian) joins him and begins to learn more about the Armenian culture thanks to their passionate and knowledgeable guide who is just known as Driver (Ashot Adamian).

Egoyan cuts between three specific points in the story; the distant past, caught on videotape, as Egoyan (labeled Photographer in the credits) and Arsinee (Translator) travel the countryside, the near-past as an answering machine delivers potential dates to Photographer, and the shifting present as Photographer dates each woman with a specific level of aloofness.

This sort of time shift was mostly hinted at in Egoyan's previous work and used more for quick flashback's and for the revelation at the end of The Adjuster.  Here the shifts are present the entire film.  The chronological spheres move forward even as Egoyan cuts back and forth between each set of events.  So despite the consistent changes in time, Egoyan manages to keep things moving at a brisk pace without sacrificing any narrative clarity.

Records are nice, but maybe it's better to leave the past in our minds.

The effect is hypnotic and so effective you'll wish Egoyan had experimented more fully in his earlier films.  But there's the sense that Egoyan is finally able to utilize this technique because the honesty of each section is so blinding, and because he is the subject for the first time.  Egoyan is wrestling with issues concerning his own Armenian heritage through the film, and the struggle is laid out between his wife and Driver.

To Photographer, this is just another assignment that happens to be in his country of origin.  But to Translator, this is her opportunity to connect to a heritage that has been denied to her for so long.  Her distaste with her husband's distance and growing closeness to Driver becomes very apparent in a number of moments where the guide and wife are growing close.  The way Egoyan suggests their eventual sex is fantastic, slowly panning the camera from Driver, deep in discussion, to Translator as she bites her thumb and listens intently, all while the camera drifts down over her form and settling on her figure.

The little bits of motion with the camera are very important in Calendar.  Most of the time the camera is static, content to watch the conversations of the past or the terribly awkward dates Photographer has in the present.  Egoyan's longing is expressed in those moments of movement, either trying to keep up with his wife who is constantly disappearing just out of frame or rushing to catch details of the countryside while forgetting the big details of Driver and his wife.

The sections in the near-past and present are more closely related, but use more audio trickery than video pans to make the point that Photographer is unable to engage his heritage.  Each date seems designed to get the woman uncomfortable and one the phone, where he listens in on their conversation and then Egoyan layers Translators voice over each dates.  It becomes clear fairly quickly that he is looking to replace his wife as it is slowly revealed that they are no longer together after their trip to Armenia.

He looks for her features in these dates, to trigger memories and sound like his ex.  This is not a man that has moved on, rather one that wants to preserve the memory of her he now holds in his cameras and audio-cassettes.

Recreating someone in the image of your old lover is kind of a deal-breaker.

It's easy to think that Egoyan has made a "slight" film with Calendar but there are some important shifts in his thinking.  It's not the technology present that allows people to escape into their own fantasy realms.  As I mentioned in the beginning with Next of Kin, people have been doing that forever.  But it offers a stronger opportunity to preserve the memory of the one's we loved most and, should they leave, replay that over and over for all time.

This was suggested with the video mausoleum of Speaking Parts, but is a primary focus here.  Egoyan shows us  a man who will never be satisfied so long as he relies on his recordings to determine what he wants now.  In Lacanian psychoanalysis there is the possibility for love, but if you are trying to recreate someone in the image of a past love it debases both current lover and the past love.  Current for obvious reasons, but past because you are trying to "trick" your desire into thinking that it has the real thing.

Our technology, sadly, makes it too easy to play this trick on our minds.  Calendar, as it stands, is a fascinating document of how this happens and does offer some suggestion on what we can do.

Engage culture on its own terms.  Do not shy away or try to substitute it with distance and cameras.  Rub your hands on the walls, feels the architecture, and talk to the people.  Identity is not made through a lens, it can only record the person standing there.

With Calendar completed, Egoyan now enters an unprecedented trio of artistic triumphs that I have rarely seen any director accomplish.  The tremendous and haunting Exotica is next week, and I can't wait to share it with you all.

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Calendar (1993)

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan.
Starring  Atom Egoyan, Arsinee Khanjian, Ashot Adamian.

Egoyan with text

Posted by Andrew

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