There is an odd charm in tales of resilience and hope that spring from human stories of war and post-war survivors. Anne Frank’s Diary, although a testament to a Jewish family’s forced exile in Nazi Germany, is effused with the hope for freedom, blue skies, and party clothes through the eyes of a young girl. Amerikatsi (2023), written and directed by Michael Goorjian, beams with the same kind of effusive hope and desire for freedom. It also simultaneously raises the question about finding a home and the meaning of liberty against the backdrop of a politically charged figment of Armenian history.

As a child, Charlie (played by Michael A. Goorjian) managed to survive the Armenian holocaust. He was shipped away in secret in a large trunk to America. Years later, he returns to Armenia after his wife’s death to build his home in the land of his ancestors. On his arrival, his act of kindness helps save the son of a communist party member, Dimitri (played by Mikhail Trukhin).

The latter’s wife, Sona (played by Nelli Uvarova), pleads with her husband to help Charlie, deemed an American now speaking in English, land a respectable job. However, Charlie is deported to prison for ten years and accused of being an American spy in the USSR, promoting cosmopolitanism and capitalism (both being counter-state propaganda under the communist-run USSR).

An earthquake chips off a portion of the prison wall facing his cell. Now, in solitary confinement, Charlie can directly gaze into the lives of a regular Armenian couple, Tigran (played by Hovik Keuchkerian) and Ruzan (played by Narine Grigoryan), who live in a nearby apartment. Thus begins Charlie’s voyeuristic journey to understand the life of an Armenian family while his prison experience worsens with time. Will Charlie be able to survive this doomed fate in his homeland? Goorjian’s screenplay is spellbindingly beautiful in how it orchestrates human emotions.

A still from Amerikatsi (2023).
A still from Amerikatsi (2023).

The character of Charlie is very much like the character of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. He is amicable, possesses naturally funny body language, and occasionally twinkles with eyes of hope. It comes as no surprise that people around him in prison, even Tigran, whose life Charlie is vicariously living by observing them through his cell window, warm up to him with time. They sneeringly, but without malice, call him ‘Charlie Chaplin’. Goorjian is charming in this role. He skillfully enacts the comedy arising out of miscommunication before he is confined to the prison, just like he tears up in Tigran’s distress when the latter quarrels with his wife, tying up the whole film neatly with his performance.

Very late in the film, we come to realize that Tigran is aware of Charlie scouring his daily life through his prison cell window. The beautiful but tragic relationship they end up sharing in the rest of the movie is one of my favorite parts about it. Through this relationship, it becomes evident that no matter how close Charlie comes to learning and adapting to Armenian life, he will continue to be an outsider (read: a repatriate) who can only gaze upon it and dream from afar.

The ending of the movie, consequentially, brings up a lot of questions, including whether Charlie will be able to feel more Armenian just because he gets to physically occupy the only place he has seen and dreamt of being a part of. This undertone of sadness that courses through Charlie’s tale makes it a bittersweet fable of hope and freedom.

One of the better things about Amerikatsi (2023) is that it doesn’t forget to highlight the political idiosyncracies of the ruling party while letting the story of Charlie’s endurance towards prison life take center stage. One cannot say these two aspects are equally balanced in the movie, but it works for me. It also threads Charlie’s memory of a song that his grandmother used to sing to him as a child into the narrative, validating the place of memory as a vehicle of history that shapes the immigrants’ stories.

Overall, Amerikatsi (2022) is full of warmth and the power of endurance. It is a gorgeous little treat that I believe everyone should indulge in at the earliest opportunity. 

★★★½

Read More: Golda (2023) Movie Review: Strong Writing and Acting Transform Middle Eastern History Lesson into Taut Closed-Room Thriller

Amerikatsi (2023) Movie Links: IMDb
Amerikatsi (2023) Movie Cast: Michael A. Goorjian, Hovik Keuchkerian, Nelli Uvarova

 

Where to watch Amerikatsi

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