by Rachel Willis
With the historical drama Amerikatsi, writer, director and star Michael Goorjian explores the harsh, sometimes funny, reality of life in Soviet Armenia during the 1930s.
During the Armenian Genocide, four-year-old Charlie is smuggled out of Armenia and sent to the United States. He returns to his homeland as an adult (Goorjian) after Joseph Stalin offers survivors of the genocide scattered around the world a chance to return to Soviet Armenia.
However, after saving a young boy from a mob, Charlie runs afoul of a soldier who doesn’t like his public displays of religiosity or his Americanism. Accused of spying for the United States, Charlie is sentenced to ten years hard labor.
Charlie finds comfort in the view from the window of his cell: a glimpse into the lives of an Armenian couple. This unexpected view allows him the chance to form a connection with the outside world. It’s this link that sustains him during his imprisonment.
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Goorjian elicits humor where he can find it. There’s an absurdity to Charlie’s circumstances that skirts the line between the comedy and the tragedy. The score often emphasizes the irrationality of both Soviet hypocrisy and the day-to-day realities of life in a gulag.
At times the humor almost undermines the historical tragedies on which the film is based. But there are also moments when we truly feel for Charlie and his plight. The tightrope Goorjian walks between humor and heartache emphasizes his skills as both an actor and a director. The supporting cast, particularly Hovik Keuchkerian, helps the film strike the right balance.
There is also genuine feeling for Armenia and its people peppered throughout the film. Despite Charlie’s treatment at the hands of the Soviets, he can’t ignore the overwhelming pull he feels for the country of his origin.
At its heart, Amerikatsi requires the audience believe in the power of both human connection and hope. To weary the audience with too much focus on the tragedy of life while ignoring the joy would hamper the film’s message.
In the end, Goorjian delivers a heartfelt love letter to Armenia and the resilience of its people.