2007 deadCENTER NARRATIVE FEATURE! We are introduced to Grigor Janoyan, professor of agriculture at the University of Yerevan, Armenia, after his demise. His body lies waiting for burial as his family stands mourning, and we learn that events leading up to this seemingly innocuous ceremony were anything but.
The action jumps back a bit, just as Grigor is crushed in a freak accident by a falling piano. In keeping with Armenian tradition, the deceased is brought home for a “viewing” by friends and relatives. It is during this time that Grigor’s children, son Hayk and daughter Hamsik, discover the man lying in state in their living room is not actually their father. He has a scar on his throat, for starters, and prison tattoos on his hands. Many children grow distant from their parents, but tattoos are hard to miss.
There’s naught else to do but return to the morgue and figure out who the man is and – more importantly – which unfortunate family got their father by mistake. Hayk and his friends borrow a car and make the trek, discovering that the body in their house is actually that of Ruben Pashayan, the head of one of Armenia’s crime families who had also passed away recently. How will the Pashayans receive the news? More importantly, can they correct the situation before anyone notices?
In watching “Big Story in a Small City,” I became aware of two very significant cultural differences between Armenia and the United States. First, Armenians have a lot more reverance for the dead. In a movie that deadCENTER festival organizer Melissa Scaramucci described as an “Armenian Weekend at Bernie’s” (I opted for “My Big Fat Armenian Funeral”), there’s nonetheless a great amount of concern given to a situation that, while played for laughs, would obviously be a source of much anguish were it actually to happen. Over here, I doubt it would raise much of a stir beyond the inevitable lawsuit against the funeral home.
Second, I’ve evidently been greatly misinformed about the power and menace of the Armenian mob. Maybe I’ve been watching too much of “The Shield,” but these guys are the most psychologically damaged gangsters I’ve ever seen. They make Tony Soprano look like Dr. Phil.
All this, however, adds to the charm of the picture. Shot for $130,000, “Big Story in a Small City” was directed by Gor Kirakosian, who emigrated to American with his family in 1992. He also co-wrote the script with the film’s star, Hrant Tokhatian. The movie is apparently based on true events related to Kirakosian by a relative, and his enthusiasm and affection for the subject matter comes through very well. True, some scenes could use a bit more editing, and I grew tired of the comic relief character, Vcho, but all in all it’s a fine effort, doubly so when you consider Kirakosian was 24 when he made it.