To date, Calendar remains one of Atom Egoyan’s most personal films. Partly set and shot in rural Armenia, the film is a vehicle through which the director reconnects with his country of heritage. Born in Cairo to Armenian parents, Egoyan and his family moved to Canada when he was only several years old. His subsequent desire to assimilate meant that his Armenian identity was displaced for many years, until he became conscious of it once again while at university in Toronto. Calendar is a product of Egoyan’s cultural rediscovery and a personal reflection on his relationship with his homeland.
Changing national identities contributed to the film’s creation in more ways than one. In 1991 Egoyan’s film The Adjuster won the Special Jury Prize at the Moscow International Film Festival, which included an award of one million rubles to make a film in the Soviet Union (of which Armenia was a part). Unfortunately, that same year the Soviet Union was dissolved and the prize was rendered worthless. The director’s desire to make a film in Armenia persisted, however, and Calendar is the result.
Through his film Egoyan is not telling a story in the traditional sense but presenting us with fragments of one, stating that it ‘is held together by the will of the narrator rather than the traditional demands of narrative.’ We witness on the one hand a photographer – who we never see in the frame – on assignment in Armenia, shooting its picturesque churches for use in a calendar, accompanied by his wife (played by Arsinée Khanjian) and driver/guide (Ashot Adamyan). Intercut with this journey through the Armenian countryside are scenes of the photographer at home in Canada, at dinner with various women. These ‘date’ scenes are initially the most cryptic aspects of Calendar because they follow an almost identical pattern; the photographer (played by Atom Egoyan) makes small-talk with his dates and pours some wine before they, looking somewhat uncomfortable, ask to use his phone. Sometimes he scribbles in a notepad while his date is talking on the phone, sometimes he doesn’t. As inscrutable as these scenes are they hold the key to the whole film, for through these dinners the photographer is attempting to reconnect with his own past, substituting his (now estranged) wife with these women. This is revealed in increments with every encounter he has, but only until the final one does the picture become clear.
Loss and regret influence every frame of Calendar. The photographer obsesses over the home video of his ex-wife, pausing the image when she appears so he can feel her presence again (it’s the same reason he keeps calling the escort agency). The videos, shot against the serene woodland and rolling hills of Armenia, are lively when she is in them, bare when she is not. Notably, the photographer never appears in the frame. He captures the landscapes but he doesn’t experience them. He scoffs when the driver wonders why he doesn’t touch the stone of the church walls, why he only looks at them. Ultimately, this reluctance to close the distance between himself and his subject is analogous with his unwillingness or inability to love. His wife occupies a space in the landscape from which he is completely removed. The distance between them is never closed and eventually all he’s left with are hazy home videos to remember what it’s like not to touch her. Looking back, he is able to shift the blame of their estrangement onto her, by manufacturing reasons she didn’t care for him; ‘I positioned myself by the entrance and pointed my camera at the two of you, waiting to see how long it would take you to see me standing there. Two minutes and fifty-four seconds[…]you have left me stranded, alone to defend myself.’ He is aggravated by his alienation from the landscape as well as his wife’s comfort within it.
The whole film pivots on the calendar that hangs on the photographer’s wall. As he turns it to the next month another one of those picturesque church scenes is presented and we are transported once more in time and space to the trip to Armenia and the fuzzy home video. Then, when the tape is rewound before us we realize that we’re back on the photographer’s sofa in Canada, searching with him for some comfort in the memories. These different modes, times and places are disorienting at first, but as the film progresses it all settles into place, until it becomes clear that all of the aspects of the photographer’s present – the phonecalls, escorts and written notes – are informed by the past.
Atom Egoyan places his own vulnerabilities in the frame within Calendar. The photographer’s disassociation with the Armenian country is a product of and reflection on the director’s own early apathy towards it. At one point the photographer talks to one of his dates about her Egyptian roots and, with obvious regret, tells her ‘you wouldn’t see that in me,’ referring to the brief period he spent in Cairo in his childhood. This ambiguity of national identity is something that Egoyan returns to frequently throughout his career and while Ararat (2002), in which he explores the Armenian genocide of 1915, remains the most notable study of his country of heritage, Calendar describes in much more personal detail how he feels towards his homeland(s). Through this film we get an impression of what it’s like to be Armenian and Egyptian and Canadian, to be all of these and none of them at the same time.
Country: Armenia, Canada, Germany
Languages: English, German, Armenian, Russian, Hebrew
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Atom Egoyan
Cinematographer: Norayr Kasper
Starring: Atom Egoyan, Arsinée Khanjian, Ashot Adamyan
Runtime: 74 minutes