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Atom Egoyan Interview

Arsinée Khanjian, Interviewed at Sundance


Calendar

In his feature film Calendar (1993), Egoyan used Russian
prize money to shoot a film in Armenia. Essentially unscripted, Calendar
required the actors — including Egoyan himself, who played the lead —
to improvise most of the dialogue and action around a loose story structure.
Egoyan plays a controlling, anally retentive photographer, who goes to
Armenia with his wife to shoot the photo art for a calendar: a series of
famous Armenian churches. During their tour, the photographer’s wife —
played by Arsinée Khanjian, Egoyan’s wife — becomes increasingly
alienated from her husband, as she grows closer to their Armenian translator.
The wife and the guide speak in Armenian, a language that the photographer
does not understand. They are ostensibly discussing the churches, although
it soon becomes clear that their conversation is drifting into more intimate
areas.

Ý
Douglas Cooper: Generally
your words are fully scripted by Atom. But your best performance may well
have been in Calendar, where you were permitted to improvise: to use Arsinée’s
language, as opposed to Atom’s language. I suspect there’s a deeper irony
here, tied to the theme of the work… something about language and distance,
about finding yourself trapped in somebody else’s story, or alienated from
your own.
Arsinée Khanjian:
I wouldn’t necessarily think of Calendar as my best performance.
I think it’s the performance that most surprised our audience. But what
you saw in my performances before Calendar, and after Calendar: those parts
were all improvised. You can’t do anything with a script unless you improvise
around it. I think there was a lot of me everywhere, but perhaps not in
an obvious way. Calendar felt more naturalistic — even though the theme
was completely alien to my emotional state at that point — because I had
to put my own words in there. And of course I had to make it more real
to my body language, to who I am in a life where people know me personally.
You say my „best“ performance; I think perhaps it was my most involved
performance.
Douglas Cooper: It
was your warmest performance. I don’t want to say good or bad, perhaps,
but Atom tends to bring out a specifically stylized, cold performance from
actors.
Arsinée Khanjian:
Yes! And that speaks to his fear of bringing up emotional expression
as a justifiable right. He doesn’t feel that we are entitled, it seems,
to our emotional explosions. And I think in Calendar, yes, he had no control
over that. He didn’t have time. Whatever was there was what he ended up
with. So he had to deal with that.
Douglas Cooper: Calendar
was very much a parody of that side of himself, wasn’t it. The controlling
side.
Arsinée Khanjian:
It was. And I think that’s why it was such a revelation for him.
I think Calendar marked a major stepping stone in his work, in that he
realized you can let those emotions happen when they’re justified, when
they’re real, and there is nothing embarrassing about them. There is no
embarrassment in making public your emotions. You don’t always have to
hide behind smarts — or wit, or darkness — in order to validate the honest
nature of emotions per se. I think that’s why it was such an important
project for him, but also for me. I always felt there was a side of me
that was not really explored in my acting work. And I did think at one
point in my life that that was never going to happen with Atom, because
he was so reticent. When Calendar happened, I realized that I can work
that way with him too. Between
Next
of Kin
and Calendar it was an amazing journey. I remember with Next
of Kin he was so worried about even the slightest eye expression or eyebrow
expression, about letting it go. And with Calendar he had to trust that.
It was great. It was a complete breakthrough.
Douglas Cooper: That may well
be why Exotica — even though it was fully scripted — was significantly
warmer than anything he shot prior to Calendar.
Arsinée Khanjian:
Definitely. I don’t think Exotica would have been made with the
sensibility and texture that it has without Calendar having happened.
Ý Ý

Speaking Parts


Perhaps Egoyan’s most extreme foray into the
alienating nature of media — and certainly the most self-reflexive of
his films — Speaking Parts (1989) deals with an issue particularly
relevant to the Canadian political climate: the appropriation of voices.
Speaking Parts creates a fear-laden environment in which almost every character
is in danger of having his or her personal story taken away, and either
distorted or silenced. The Hollywood habit of „optioning“ somebody’s story
takes on a particularly sinister connotation. Media — and particularly
film and video — are represented as devices less suited to capturing history
than destroying it. The man who holds the camera is in a position of power;
and the man who wields the editor’s knife is in a position of tyranny.
This critique is taken a step further in: The Adjuster


Who is ’speaking‘

 In the column to my left? 
No, you mean „to ‚your‘ left“.

Where to

Atom Egoyan

Armenian Resources

Research

Links

Writing

How
to Read

Freud and Lacan Seminar Syllabus

Another Scene

Secondary
Elaboration

Zoe Beloff

unsutures


Where to

Atom Egoyan

Armenian Resources

Research Links

Writing

How
to Read
Freud and Lacan Seminar Syllabus


Another Scene

Secondary
Elaboration


Zoe Beloff