Egoyan's primary purposes are to enlighten audiences who have little knowledge of the Siege of Van, while charting the tragedy's impact on modern-day Armenians. However, Egoyan ladles on the subplots to diminishing returns.
The main action revolves around art history professor Ani (Arsinee Khanjian), hired as a consultant on the epic film "Ararat," directed by auteur Edward Saroyan (the wonderful Charles Aznavour). Meanwhile, Ani's son Raffi (well-played by David Alpay) has just returned from the region with film cans containing additional footage. Raffi is stopped at the Toronto airport by David (Christopher Plummer), a soon-to-retire customs official who grills Raffi on the contents of the cans. Additional concerns, including David's homosexual son, whose boyfriend is co-starring in Saroyan's film, and Raffi's affair with his stepsister, who believes Ani killed her father, render the film overly plotted and didactic.
Raffi's interaction with David is the most effective story thread, while others, like David's homosexual son, seem tossed out there to represent a certain point of view.
The film-within-a-film conceit is risky: Although effective in conveying details of the tragedy, it's too gimmicky for such a serious film. Additionally, Saroyan's movie seems pretty awful, with hambone acting and obvious dialogue. Still, it's hard not to wring tears out of the Armenian genocide and Egoyan, who can be a devastating director, does just that.
In the end, Egoyan's enormous talent and Mychael Danna's intense score keep "Ararat" interesting and emotional. However, the film has a musty, museum quality that keeps the audience at a permanent distance. Starring David Alpay, Christopher Plummer, Elias Koteas, Charles Aznavour and Eric Bogosian. Directed and written by Atom Egoyan. Produced by Robert Lantos. A Miramax release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 126 min