Movie Review: Armenian film “Vodka Lemon” avoids exoticism

Armenian film “Vodka Lemon” avoids exoticism
By Bas Blokker

NRC Handelsblad (Dutch newspaper)
July 21, 2004

The first images make one flinch. An old man in a bed is dragged by a van
through a motorway covered in snow. A little later the bed stops near a
newly dug grave at a cemetery in a desolate valley. Then the old man removes
his teeth from his mouth and purses his lips to play on a pitiful wind

Is this again a Caucasian film full of coquettish exoticism like Luna Papa?
No, Vodka Lemon fortunately just skims past, shuns however neither the
absurd nor the surreal, but stands as an authentic and not coquettish film.

The Kurdish film director Hiner Saleem has a rather bare and timid love
story between two elderly people, widow Nina and widower Hamo, soberly
decorated with few secondary characters who fortunately have little in
common with the toothless musician at the beginning of the film. At times
music plays a magical role in Vodka Lemon, but not obtrusive. The film is
more modest than the beginning suggests, although the exotic bed scene was
chosen for the poster – exoticism sells better than silence.

Saleem does well in transmitting the hopelessness in this remote corner of
Armenia. The poverty is all the more harrowing as money always seems within
reach. One of Hamo’s sons lives in France and each letter from him is
received like a lottery ticket; it is always a no. Hamo sells all the
objects in his house on the market to richer Russians or Armenians where he
accepts any price they offer for his late wife’s favorite furniture or for
his old military uniform.

Hamo says that he sometimes misses the old Soviet Union. No, they had no
freedom, he must admit that to his friend, but they did have the other. Now
gas, water and electricity are all privatised and the villagers have to
divide their little money into portions for their creditor companies.

What is so emotional about Vodka Lemon, and possibly the reason it won one
of the big prizes at the Festival of Venice, is that the main characters
curb great tragic with a small lust for life. A marriage of convenience, a
small dance, chatting outside on wooden chairs on a night with snow. There
is not much more pleasure in it, but apparently not much more is needed.

Vodka Lemon. Director: Hiner Saleem. With: Romen Avinian, Lala Sarkissian,
Rouzanna-Vite Mesropian. In: Cinecenter, Amsterdam; Chassé, Breda; Cinerama,
Rotterdam; Louis Hartloopercomplex, Utrecht.