MUBI is celebrating Canadian National Film Day, in partnership with REEL CANADA, by exclusively showing Atom Egoyan's Calendar (1993). It is playing on MUBI from April 20 - May 19, 2016. Many thanks to the director, who generously has shared this new introduction to his film.
It started with a very simple urge: to go there. Though both my parents are Armenian, I was born in Cairo, raised in Canada, and had never visited my “mother country.” In 1991 my fourth feature, The Adjuster, had been invited to the Moscow Film Festival. It won a prize, which included one million rubles (a fortune back then) to make a film somewhere in the Soviet Union. At the time, Armenia was part of the Soviet Union, and this would be my opportunity to go there.
Over the next year, as I began to formulate an idea for a film, fate would work against me. The Soviet Union disintegrated, and the prize money became worthless. Nevertheless, a producer with an experimental German television station had heard of the project and offered me a small amount of funding to go to Armenia and shoot a personal essay on image and identity. This would become Calendar.
In Geoff Dyer’s book, Zona, mention is made of Flaubert’s desire to write a book without a traditional plot, and create a work where “there is no longer any orthodoxy, and form is as free as the will of the creator.” In this way, Calendar is a film that is held together by the will of the creator rather the traditional demands of narrative. Dyer describes this imaginary work as one that might establish the axiom “that there is no such thing as subject – style in itself being an absolute manner of seeing things.”
Calendar shows a particular alchemy produced by a number of clashing stylistic decisions, and how these choices affect the three central characters in the film. It displays the deliberate frames carefully chosen by a photographer (composing sunlit churches) overlapped with a series of choices made by a filmmaker. Although I am playing both parts, the personalities are wildly different. The tension in the film is generated by the clash of wildly different recording systems with very specific agendas.
The great Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky wrote that an image becomes authentically cinematic when “not only does it live within time, but also time lives within it, even within each separate frame.” In many ways, this statement explains a lot about what I was trying to do with this film. It presents the viewer with a series of organizing instruments (a calendar, a video diary, a letter, a series of curious dates…) that record the passage of time. These ideas are then used to describe the time of a relationship, the time of finding and losing love, and the time of healing.
This is all contained in a story with the most minimal of plots. A man goes to a country to take twelve pictures of historic churches for a calendar. That’s the story. But Calendar is a film about the making of images and how these images construct both a personal and a national identity. In making this film, I wanted to express the reflection of the very journey it describes.