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 with much of the financing from German television. Chronologically it falls between two larger-scale films, The Adjuster and Exotica, and 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 meetings with his female guests, 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 not to mention his written letters to her.
Egoyan’s early work has a cerebral quality which coupled with some quite rarefied themes, results in a cinema possibly more admired than loved. (I admit The Adjuster left me completely cold, though I may well revisit it sometime in the light of Egoyan’s later work.) Calendar shares many of the same themes: the role technology plays in communication between people, an interest in non-linear narrative, and also a concern for nationality and heritage, particularly Egoyan’s own, which is Armenian. (He was born in Egypt of Armenian parents who later emigrated to Canada.)
From Exotica (the film which changed my own mind about Egoyan’s work) and particularly The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan seemed consciously to invest his films with a greater emotional content, while still tackling the same preoccupations. You can see this stirring in Calendar. The casting of Egoyan and his wife Arsinée 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 as his earlier work. Calendar is certainly a film that Egoyan’s admirers will want to see, but the uninitiated might do better to try his later work first.
Calendar is released by Madman as part of their Director’s Suite line. A short film with minimal extras makes for a single-layered DVD, encoded for Region 4 only.
The transfer is 4:3. That, or rather Academy Ratio, seems to be correct, an unusual choice for a film from the mid 90s, and one possibly explained by the film’s televisual origins. The film sequences are a little soft and grainy. The IMDB says the film was shot on 35mm, but other sources say 16mm, and it certainly looks that way to me. The 8mm video material is almost monochromatic with a blue tint. I don’t have much doubt that the film is intended to look like this, and that the transfer is faithful to it.
The soundtrack is mono, which is again unusual for a film of its time. (Stereo soundtracks on British television date from the late 1980s, but that may not have been the case in Europe.) The dialogue is a mixture of English and Armenian, but no subtitles are provided for the latter due to Khanjian’s role as an interpreter. The lack of English subtitles is another matter though, and it’s regrettable that they are absent.
The only extras on the disc are for other titles in the Director’s Suite series, but first we have the “You Wouldn’t Steal a Car” anti-piracy ad. The trailers are for Wings of Desire, The Leopard, the 1974 Billy Wilder version of The Front Page and The Wind Will Carry Us. However, Madman have provided a booklet with a substantial essay, “The Sea of Images: Atom Egoyan’s Calendar”, which is somewhat academic in tone but helps to put the film in context.