June 21st 2012 04:23
Canadian director Atom Egoyan’s fifth project Calendar (1993) was the one he made just before his international breakthrough Exotica. However, those unacquainted with Egoyan’s prior work won’t be surprised to learn that he just as successfully experimented with familiar themes - many of which interlock in complex ways - in the wonderfully understated Calendar.
Egoyan himself plays a nameless Photographer who has returned to Toronto from Armenia without his wife. Employed to photograph twelve historic churches for a calendar, we see him - in flashbacks that form the bulk of the narrative - travelling with her (and played by Egoyan’s longtime real-life spouse Arsinee Khanjian) and a local guide (Ashot Adamyan). There’s friction between the couple, some of it inherent from an obviously strained marriage, but also due to the presence of the guide who the Photographer can only communicate with via his wife’s translations.
Alongside these interactions in Armenia, the months advance on the finished calendar back in Toronto. We see the picturesque final products via background shots as a serious of female ‘companions’, invited to dinner, seek solace from their date with the Photographer on the nearby telephone where their conversation assumes an indecipherable foreign language. These calls allow the Photographer to explore his pain and revised identity whilst in the Armenian footage, clues to his wife’s impending attraction to the guide take shape.
Egoyan’s structure is compelling; as in so many of his films, it’s arranged non-linearly with overlapping time strands contributing to a strangely ambiguous brew of memories and reflections, many of which dwell poignantly on interrelated notions of identity and ethnicity. He uses diverse, equally effective mediums to provoke his tale, from rough video footage, film, photographs, and voiceover narrations from both the Photographer reciting letters to his wife in hindsight and the wife herself in messages left on her husband’s answering machine.
Ingeniously conceived and meticulously executed, Calendar, which ponders the nature of truth is creatively fascinating ways, is a masterful early film from Egoyan. To expose more of the numerous clever, often humourous details of the director’s systematic methodology would only spoil the enjoyment. But for those who believed Egoyan’s career began with Exotica (1994) can think again; that film’s predecessor is almost as fine an achievement.
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