The first part of what follows is based on my review of the Region 4 DVD of Calendar, written for this site in 2010. I have revised it in the light of having seen and reviewed Next of Kin, Family Viewing, Speaking Parts and revisiting The Adjuster for this site.
A photographer (Atom Egoyan) has an assignment to produce a series of twelve shots of historical Armenian churches for use in a calendar. He travels to the country with his wife (Arsinée Khanjian) who acts as an interpreter for their guide (Ashot Adamian). However, over the course of the assignment, his wife falls in love with the guide…
Atom Egoyan made Calendar on a small budget (around $80,000), largely improvised, with much of the financing from German television. Chronologically it falls between two larger-scale films, The Adjuster and Exotica (released on DVD and Blu-ray by Artificial Eye simultaneously with Calendar). You can sense a change in Egoyan’s approach in that time, with Calendar being a transitional work.
It’s certainly a very formally rigorous one. With the final calendar images and their respective months acting as chapter points, Calendar mixes film, Super 8mm video (operated by Egoyan himself) and still photography, and it moves back and forth between the present time, with the photographer’s dates with various women, to the previous year in Armenia. Audio technology also plays a part, with the wife’s messages to her former husband on his answer machine. And he writes letters to her. The role of technology as a means of enabling, or inhibiting, connection between people is to the fore here, with the phone not being picked up and the answering machine taking her calls. Egoyan also uses a gambit that Michael Haneke would later use himself, of taking what appears to be “reality” but revealing it to be retrospectively-viewed video by suddenly fast-forwarding.
At the end of the film, we return to a shot from the car in Armenia as it passes a flock of sheep, and we learn the significance of what at first seems like random scene-setting, in retrospect significantly placed straight after the opening title card. Calendar also displays an interest in non-linear narrative and also a concern for nationality and heritage, particularly Egoyan’s own, which is Armenian. The title card and the principal cast names are rendered in Armenian as well as in English. Armenian dialogue is deliberately left unsubtitled, a device enabled by the wife's role as an interpreter, a human enabler of communication, but – you have to speculate – not an entirely forthcoming one. It puts us in the filmmaker's shoes, as it's through his eyes we see much of this film: a verbal barrier between him and his wife, with his guide on the other side of it with her.
The Sweet Hereafter (also due a DVD and Blu-ray release from Artificial Eye) was a film which changed many people's minds about Egoyan. It was a film which seemed to many to tackle more overtly emotional territory, without the (somewhat deceptive) slightly chilly, cerebral air of the director's earlier work, while still retaining the same preoccupations. You can see this stirring in Calendar. The casting of Egoyan and his wife (Khanjian) in two of the three central roles, as a married couple, invites autobiographical speculation. That’s not to say that the breakdown of the characters’ marriage in Calendar is of any significance to Egoyan and Khanjian’s marriage in real life – they remain married to this day. However, Egoyan may be making a personal investment in this film by doing this, but the result is still as distant and cerebral as his some of his earlier work. This is certainly a film that Egoyan’s admirers will want to see, but the uninitiated might do better to start elsewhere.
Calendar is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Artificial Eye. It was the former which was sent for review, and affiliate links refer to that edition. For those for the Blu-ray, go here. The DVD is single-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. The 12 certificate is as per the coverscan above as at the time of writing Calendar does not appear on the BBFC database: its previous British showings were without a certificate, including a run at the ICA in London.
Due to its television origins, Calendar is in a ratio of 1.33:1, though the DVD transfer is oddly anamorphically enhanced, that is in 16:9 with black bars to either side – most likely due to its being a downconvert of the Blu-ray transfer. The IMDB claims this was shot in 35mm, but as I said with the Region 4 DVD (a different transfer and not anamorphically enhanced) it looks more like 16mm to me. (The film's entry in the Canadian Film Encyclopedia bears this out.) The 8mm video material is inevitably lower-def, softer and noisier, but that's clearly intentional. As with Egoyan's earlier 16mm features, not to forget the two 16mm shorts on this disc, this isn't going to look state of the art, but I don't doubt that this is how the film is intended to look.
The soundtrack is mono, very unusual for 1993, but likely explained by the television origins again. The Dolby Digital 2.0 sound mix is clear and well-balanced and there are no issues with it. As before with their Egoyan discs, and much of their English-language output in general, Artificial Eye have not provided any hard-of-hearing subtitles. As mentioned above, the Armenian-language dialogue spoken by Adamian and Khanjian is intentionally left unsubtitled.
The four previous Egoyan releases had no extras. But this one does, namely two early Egoyan shorts. “Howard in Particular” (12:07) was made in 1979, when Egoyan was nineteen and a College student studying International Relations. The drama society rejected a play he had written so he joined the film society and turned his play into the present short. Made in 16mm in black and white, it's a semi-surreal piece, satirical in a rather sophomoric way, depicting the title character's last day before retirement. Visually it's quite assured. It begins as a silent with just a piano score, but the film's only spoken words start four minutes in with Howard's boss's valedictory message, played to him from an open-reel tape recorder...another use of technology enabling and at once impeding human communication.
Made in 1981, also in 16mm, “Peep Show” (6:55) is a surreal piece taking place in a photo booth. You can sense an early interest in voyeurism, along with much experimenting with colour, in the forms of layering colour filters and a basic rotoscoping technique over a basically black and white image. Both shorts are in a ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtracks.