CLOSURE, SUPERSTITION & TRADITION:
A REVIEW & REFLECTION OF THE FILM I PROMISED HER LIFE BY ROBERT NAZAR ARJOYAN
by: Gabe Mugalian and Karine Eurdekian
A colloquial rite of passage in the process of ‘moving on and letting go,’ closure is the final step in the pursuit of a resolution. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that closure involves confrontation. One last kiss goodbye, a final argument, or a lengthy poetic text. Other times, we tell ourselves that closure is best when it remains personal. Carried out silently, and only to be acknowledged in the depths of our own consciousness.
The concept of closure is complex, and individual experiences vary. Loss may be inevitable- but it’s still true that some are by choice and others by circumstance. The film “I Promised Her Life,” focuses on the concept of closure in the absence of choice, when a young woman has passed far too soon. The 15 minute film follows a grieving Armenian-American mother as she navigates the day of her daughter’s funeral.
The film starts at a funeral service, as our characters grieve the loss of their daughter, Sevan (Kathreen Khavari). An emotional flurry is then captured, as our main character and Sevan’s mother, Elena (Anne Bedian), defies the Armenian tradition of washing ones hands after leaving a graveyard, and before walking into the deceased's home. The late Sevan’s mother, Elena- boldly rejects the tradition. Her husband (Arthur Darbinyan) and mother-in-law (Takui Akopyan) find this wrong, and are quite apprehensive. They fear what may happen should tradition be cast aside. Their initial interaction sets the suspenseful tone for the rest of the film.
Throughout the film, the unknown is mirrored in the viewer’s experience. We do not know what happens before or after the films glimpse into the lives of the family, nor do we know how Sevan (Khavari) died. Instead of focusing on the when and how, the film centers the process of taking steps towards closure and acceptance.
One of the more subtle messages in the plot touch on the ‘non-traditional’ sexuality of Sevan. Sevan is queer, which to some parents can sometimes seem to be a loss in it of itself. This is where we discover that resistance of the unknown is what prevents real closure. This emotional resistance is observed as we watch Sevan’s parents let go of who they thought their daughter was, and confront the tragedy of losing who she could have been.
As the film continues on, we begin to understand that opening up to the unknown can provide closure; a message as complex and conflicted as our grieving characters.
Elena and her husband, Arman (Darbinyan), must accept and honor the life Sevan chose before reconciling themselves with Sevan’s death. They must open themselves up to find closure- and this is our favorite message in the film.
Be it a coffee cup reading that foreshadows an opening of the heart, dolma bringing people together in unlikely circumstances, or the breaking of a picture frame that cuts deep into Elena’s memory- an intimate family story is told poetically as it is projected for the world to see.
The film seems to end before you want it to, which is perhaps itself a reflection of a life cut short. However, it does not leave us disappointed- but optimistic. Bedian carries the film with her strong acting, alternating between warm and cold, soft and hard. Paired with a full-circle soundtrack that cues our emotions in all the right ways, humble cinematography, and relatable characters in simple settings, Arjoyan offers a morsel of bitter-sweet melancholy packed full with meaning and sprinkled with flakes of dry Armenian humor.
The gorgeous Armenian soundtrack by Bei Ru ornaments the film with sensations of home that feel incredibly real, while the emotional basis of the film speaks accurately to the impact of loss. The essence of Armenian culture is weaved extremely thoroughly into various themes of the film, and the power of music ties together the indescribable experience of closure through the lens of a grieving mother. Recognizable Armenian tunes are scattered all throughout the film, so don’t be surprised if a few special ones get stuck in your head.
THE DIRECTOR & HIS INSPIRATION
Written, directed, edited, and produced by Robert Nazar Arjoyan, the film gracefully balances heartache, tradition, and taboo in painting a vivid representation of an Armenian family mourning the loss of their child. Robert, who grew up in the Armenian community his whole life, was inspired to create the film after a funeral experience that left an impression on him when he was a child. It was the tradition of ‘washing the hands’ (believed to prevent the dead from following you home), that so specifically captured his attention.
In his film, Robert utilizes this vivid childhood experience to draw a contrast between what is made to be a cathartic experience, and the deep weight of lingering pain. A lover of Stephen King and Sci-Fi, he brings Armenian superstition to life through the presence of kind ghosts and eloquent suspense.
Leaving a lasting impression long after it’s over, this award winning film inspires viewers to think about the tensions we face in resisting change. Be it a change of lifestyle, relationship status, or even a change of heart— it reminds audiences the extent to which resistance can impact our lives. It reminds us that stories don’t always have happy endings, but we are capable of reaching resolutions nonetheless. We are reminded that though sometimes letting go will hurt, it will also get better.