“Was I a Soldier?”: Award-winning film proves truth stronger than fiction
“Our brother”, sadly say two soldiers standing by their dead friend. The documentary by 39-year-old Vardan Hovhannisyan called “A Story of People in War and Peace” about brotherly relations formed at war won four (the largest number of awards given to one film) awards, including one for documentary during the recent Golden Apricot International Film Festival. The film was produced at Bars Media Documentary Film Studio.
The film tells about the life of fighters of the Karabakh war in parallel – at war and at peace. The structure and idea it has could well serve for a fiction film, but a question arises as you watch the film – could a fiction express the realism of a documentary?
In “A Story of People” (www.warandpeacefilm.com) there are real soldiers, real injured and a real nurse instead of actors, a real corps, instead of one to pretend, a real war instead of a staged one and the true fate of veterans after the war instead of the made-up ones; and finally, there is a true brotherhood that has passed ordeals instead of a fragile brotherhood for money in post-war Armenia. And there is a real film instead of fiction.
At the beginning of the film Hovhannisyan says: “My son asked me once: ‘Father, have you been a soldier?’, and I did not know what to reply. I spent four years of my life at war.” The film was made to answer the question. The author tells he used to be a journalist in the hot spots, has shot video for various foreign news channels. He has also shot during the Karabakh war that came to his Fatherland, but the more calamities of war he saw, the more questions he had and his work had no answers for them. Hovhannisyan finally broke off with media and stayed at the front. This is the case when the theme and the environment that a journalist uses to make a story appear to be stronger than the journalistic profession and love for it and take the journalist and merge him with them. As Hovhannisyan says in the film he left journalism and became a member of soldiers’ brotherhood: “I have lived with these people and have shared with them everything, shared also their vague fate. I couldn’t perceive myself a journalist, [because] I became part of that brotherhood.”
The sacrifice of journalistic objectivity reveals the truth about the war participants 12 years after. Only five days of the war from the four year records were used for the film; simultaneously, Hovhannisyan finds the [former] fighters and depicts their life as it is 12 years after. The film answers the questions about who in reality fought during the war and what happened with them after it. The filmmaker finds Tchut, one of the most courageous fighters, who was always on the front line, in prison arrested for drugs. He finds Kajik in a psychiatric clinic, who says in low voice to the camera: “I am not mad, I am a war veteran.” Gevorg is a postman, who brings and takes letters in the village like he used to transport weapons in wartime. The author finds mathematics teacher Armo has died. He had said he was going to war to protect his daughter, but it appeared that his daughter by the twist of fate left for Russia, while his widow was knitting a wool quilt to send to her daughter’s family to Russia. Nurse Anahit serves in the army, and Felo is a fisherman, divorced and in tense relations with his son. One of the heroes, unable to stand the peace time, has gone back to the mountains of Karabakh to serve on the borderline and says now it’s more difficult than in wartime. War ends, life like this does not…
A viewer can’t keep from comparing the film with other films or the people telling about Karabakh war. All these fighters are common people, peasants, and you can’t find someone like the hero, a son of a soviet official, in the “Don’t Be Afraid” film about the Karabakh war shown on Public TV this year.
Nor are there people, who seize land lots, plants and sources of income and now drive around in luxury cars complacently leaving their compatriots in misery and cite their participation in war as a justification. Have they been at war? Probably, they have. But all of Hovhannisyan’s heroes are poor; there are no rich among them.
The film reveals the unknown sides of the war never disclosed in the newspapers; the soldiers’ bad language dialogues, corpses of the adversary, the story Tchut told in prison: he says God has always shown him his presence in “all but by talking to me”. He describes the atrocities he committed “that were not given by God” and thinks he is now in prison as a punishment.
The film ends with Tchut’s second son’s birth. He called his two sons after his dead friends – his brothers – to make them immortal. The film does not say if Hovhannisyan was only making video records during the four years, or he also participated in operations. Or maybe he thinks his weapon is his camera that has to perpetuate the true participants of the war?
The “Story of People in War and Peace” was awarded the best director nomination in the New York Tribeca Festival, the audience award in Italy’s Trieste and Zagreb festivals, jury’s special award in One World Festival in Tel Aviv and Prague and was nominated for best film at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam.