`MAYRIG' MESHES TWO FILMS TO TELL AN EPIC STORY
by Richard Duckett, Telegram & Gazette Staff
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE (Massachusetts)
May 6, 2006 Saturday
WORCESTER - "Mayrig" is a remarkable film in many respects, not the
least for the way it has finally been put together as a compelling
family drama straddling 40-plus years.
Fourteen years ago the late French-Armenian filmmaker Henry
Verneuil made the original version of "Mayrig," apparently a
semi-autobiographical account of a family's efforts to start anew after
fleeing the Armenian genocide and settling in Marseilles, France, in
1920. Omar Sharif and Claudia Cardinale played the parents - Hagop
and Mayrig Zakarian - who invest much love and hope in their young
son, Azad. A couple of years later, Verneuil made a sequel in which
the adult Azad we had seen coming of age in "Mayrig" faces personal
questions about assimilation and his own identity now that he is a
successful playwright in France.
The two films have now been successfully melded into an interesting
whole, and the newly edited and English subtitled version of "Mayrig"
will be making what is being billed as its world premiere at 7 p.m.
tomorrow in Room 320 (Cinema 320) of the Jefferson Academic Center
at Clark University. The screening is presented by the Knights of
Vartan Arshavir Lodge No. 2 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the
founding of the Knights of Vartan. Tickets are $10, and proceeds will
go toward The Adopt-A-School Project in Armenia.
Given that Cardinale and Sharif are world-famous names, it is somewhat
surprising that no showing of this film with English subtitles has
occurred until now. But it is not they who provide the film's real
dramatic heft. Rather, it is the obvious deep feeling that Verneuil
has for his story that infuses the film with a quiet strength.
The film is narrated by the adult Azad as we first see his family
undergoing some nervous moments waiting for the official stamp at
French immigration that will offer them a new life after escaping the
horrors of the genocide. While setting up its tale, "Mayrig" does not
shrink from showing a snapshot of those horrors as remembered by one
survivor. These scenes of a forced march in the desert are grim and
realistic, and establish what is at stake for the Zakarians.
As "Mayrig" unfolds, Azad endures the prejudice of French schoolmates,
but he has an inner capacity to understand what is going on and to
live with it. What must help matters considerably for Azad is that he
is totally doted on at home. There is no sacrifice his parents and
two aunts will not make for him. After a while the film sweetly but
almost inevitably slides into the direction of sentimentality. Dignity
saves the day, however, both in the director's efforts and with the
performances of Cardinale and Sharif, who are at their strongest when
the film most needs them to be.
"Mayrig" shows Azad's progress up to 1940, and then this new version
makes a sudden and huge leap. World War II is bypassed, as well
as Azad making a monumental career-change (in fact both could have
been very intriguing subjects as far as relating to the Zakarians,
although this already long movie can obviously depict only so much).
We meet Azad anew as a rather jaundiced middle-aged playwright. His
parents are still alive, but these kindly souls are strangely a source
of acute irritation to Azad's non-Armenian wife.
The original music score won an Academy Award, but Verneuil again
may be in danger of over-cueing the violins at the end. Fortunately
to help counterbalance that, there are once again some saving graces.
The script develops quite a nice wit, and when Verneuil has something
profound to say his film communicates the thoughts and emotions with
`Mayrig' ***1/2 A Sony Pictures release Rating: Not rated Running time:
2 hours, 30 minutes.