Ensouled, 2022 (8 minutes)
Reviewed by Lilly Torosyan
Director/Writer: Kamee Abrahamian
Producer: Emily Mkrtichian
Cast: Lucia Kagramanyan, Saana Araxi Abrahamian-Hoyt, Kamee Abrahamian, Satenig Mirzoyan, Milena Abrahamyan, Ani Khatchikian, Sara Abrams, Melanie Moradi
Director of Photography: Margos Margossian
Music and Sound Design: Caroline Partamian
Mastering: Ethan Primason
Singer: Satenig Mirzoyan
The past few months have been a buzzing time for Armenian films. With events such as the 15th annual Hamazkayin Pomegranate Film Festival, the ARPA International Film Festival, the AGBU Armenians in Film night in New York, and a slew of productions making their way through the international film circuit, the future looks bright—and it is here.
One of these gems is “Ensouled,” a short film/love letter from mother to child. The film comprises one piece of a greater interdisciplinary SWANA (South West Asia and North Africa) storytelling project that director/writer Kamee Abrahamian describes as a blend of “magical realism, visionary fiction, and ancestral reclamation.” And, indeed, “Ensouled” packs a lot of soul in just under eight minutes.
The film (which seems to be the start of a series) was shot in Armenia but could just as easily have been in Ireland or Middle Earth (or perhaps Heaven or Eden or the Amazon). Whatever it is, wherever it is, it is safe. From the project description, we learn that it feels this way because we have entered a “near future” where “state-sanctioned violence has nearly wiped out an entire generation of resistors, elders, and keepers-of-ancestral knowledge.”
In a wild green scape, a brook babbles, and birds faintly chime like dying bells. This near-silence morphs into a buzz, controlled by a human—or a more accurate characterization in this post-apocalyptic story—a solitary botanist and coder. By the end (and from the credits), we discover that this is the older child (“Adult Badaskhan”), who has “become obsessed with recording and decoding unusual frequencies from a newly sprouted plant.” These frequencies turn out to be clandestine correspondences between their Armenian ancestors—survivors, resisters, and magic practitioners.
Which lays the groundwork for the narrator, Kamee, to literally and figuratively bring the wind. Kamee is no stranger to the Armenian community of Toronto; they were born in an immigrant Toronto suburb to a family who came to Canada by way of Syria and Lebanon. On their website, Kamee lists themselves as “an interdisciplinary artist, writer, producer, performer, organizer, caregiver, waitress, and witch.” Perhaps all but one are apparent in this role (I’ll let you guess which one). Speaking a promise to their child, Badaskhan, which rings out like a prayer, the whole sequence is mapped in reverie.
The camera pans to the child’s garden-green eyes as they speak of nature. Badaskhan “talks to the plants,” and “sings to the sky,” and whispers from their ancestors in their mother tongue at night. Words of promise glide in parallel to the dreams of the child. “Our commitments and sacrifices are not mutually exclusive,” says the mother, after peppering in proverbs like, «Մէկ ծաղիկով գարուն չի գայ» (“One flower does not herald spring”). Safety is not guaranteed, but resistance lives within the veins and within love—of the generations, of the ethereal, of the earth. This is the promise that is made.
The film concludes with another dream-like sequence of an “ancestral” voice (Satenig Mirzoyan) singing an ode of motherly love against a bonfire. All the ancestors who moved about during the speaking portion now sit still, almost statuesque, staring into space. They are suspended in a trance as the camera fades with the flames. The song, like the rest of the film, is a wrenching reckoning of love. Whether prayer, meditation, dream, or promise, the testament is conveyed from Mayrig to Badaskhan, the younger of whom is “played” by Kamee’s real-life child.
If you have a few minutes to en(rich the)soul, consider watching “Ensouled” on Vimeo. For updates on other pieces of the Ensouled project (which will include an illustrated book, an immersive installation, a digital media platform, and more films), visit Kamee’s website: kameeabrahamian.com.