Reel Toronto: Ararat
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Reel Toronto: Ararat

Atom Egoyan's most personal film might not be his best, but it does make some fine use of the city in its exploration of history, truth, and art.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

2014 03 4 ararat

Atom Egoyan is one of our great filmmakers, but lordy, he can be inconsistent. Sometimes, he does something undeniably brilliant, like Exotica or The Sweet Hereafter. Sometimes, he does something ambitious that doesn’t quite get there, like Chloe. Sometimes, he puts out a movie, and you don’t even know it came out. And sometimes he just makes a mess. Which one is Ararat? Well, it’s obviously supposed to be a very personal and ambitious piece about history and art and truth and fiction and, in particular, the Armenian genocide. And somehow it all just becomes a cold, muddled mess. Even Roger Ebert, a big fan of Egoyan’s, barely mustered a 2.5-star review.

Still, it’s set primarily here in Toronto, and even lower-tier Egoyan is better than, say, a quasi-autobiographical Mariah Carey picture, so have a gander!

2014 03 4 aremina set

So, Ararat is essentially composed of a few levels of reality that gradually come together and overlap. The first involves a movie being made about the Armenian genocide. It obviously and purposefully takes place on constructed sets…

2014 03 4 filmset

…but occasionally we go outside and find ourselves at an actual film studio…

2014 03 4 stage9

…apparently the old Toronto Film Studios, now rechristened Cinespace.

2014 03 4 airport2

The second plot strand involves the grilling of David Alpay at the airport by customs official Christopher Plummer.

2014 03 4 airport nationaltrade

It looks airporty enough, but as we zoom out, we see it’s actually the Direct Energy Centre at the Ex.

2014 03 4 plummer

The backroom spaces, however, appear to have been shot at the now-demolished former OPP headquarters at 90 Harbour Street.

2014 03 4 12 montcrest

Here we see the exterior of Plummer’s place, at #12 Something Street.

2014 03 4 montcrest

As he crosses the street

2014 03 4 12montcrest view

…and gets into a car (with Brent Carver!), we see a nice view of the Don Valley and skyline, and we know we’re on Montcrest Boulevard.

2014 03 4 ago

One extensive sequence takes place at the Art Gallery of Ontario, providing an opportunity to remember its pre-Gehry appearance. Walker Court…

2014 03 4 ago walker

…looks about the same, minus its new staircase, anyway…

2014 03 4 ago oldentrance

…and even the main entrance isn’t entirely unfamiliar…

2014 03 4 ago bookstore

…but the bookshop looks pretty different now…

2014 03 4 ago streetcar

…and, hey, we can see a streetcar going by out on Dundas.

2014 03 4 greenwood bogosian

Yep, that’s French legend Charles Aznavour in that Walker Court shot…and when you consider people like Eric Bogosian and Bruce Greenwood are also in the mix, you can see that a weak cast is not one of the problems here.

2014 03 4 portland2

Here Elias Koteas and David Alpay take a little drive in the west end.

2014 03 4 queen portland

As they turn onto this stret, we can see that they’re actually on Portland, south of Queen West.

2014 03 4 distilleryroof

This is a rather lovely shot of the city, apparently from atop a Distillery District roof…

2014 03 4 distillerymaybe

…and this is the following interior shot, which could certainly also be in the district.

2014 03 4 premiere

Finally, we get to the premiere of the film-within-the-film, also called Ararat! Everyone walks the red carpet out on Yonge Street

2014 03 4 intopantages

…and into…

2014 03 4 pantageslobby2

…the handsome corridor at the Canon/Mirvish/Pantages Theatre.

As we said, even if it’s not the most watchable Egoyan film, there’s too much thought and artistry evident in Ararat to call it a disaster. Indeed, though Wikipedia helpfully notes it was “given only a limited release in most countries, and failed to make a significant gross at the box office,” it did win several Genie Awards, including Best Picture. A decade later, perhaps it’s worth revisiting.