By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 11/11/21 – On Wednesday, October 10 at the Asian World Film Festival at the Landmark Theatres in West Los Angeles was a screening of Should The Wind Drop (Si le vent tombe), an engaging debut film by Nora Martirosyan (Armenia/Belgium/France, 2020), starring French actor Grégoire Colin and Hayk Bakhryan. This a fictional film but in many ways, it is a film about the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, in what was until recently the Armenian held quasi-independent republic in the mountainous region between Armenia and Azerbaijan. International auditor Alain (played by Grégoire Colin) has arrived to appraise the airport of a small self-proclaimed republic in the Caucasus to greenlight its eventual reopening. Through Edgar, a local boy running a make-shift business in the airport, Alain will risk all to help this isolated territory to open up. Should The Wind Drop originally screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2020, but never had a theatrical release in the USA due to the COVID pandemic. It is Armenia’s submission for Best International Feature Film at the 94th Motion Picture Awards in 2022.
In some ways, the main character is the Stepanakert Airport near Stepanakert, the capital city of the de facto independent Republic of Artsakh. The airport, in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, has been under the control of the Republic since 1992. The airport was originally built by the Soviet Union in 1974. Flights ceased to take place with the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1990, and the airport remains very close to the cease-fire lease established at the end of that war. This Armenian film is a fresh look at the situation in Artsakh (Karabakh) which has recently erupted in fighting between Armenian troops and Azerbaijan forces.
In making Should the Wind Drop, director Nora Martirosyan was well aware of the possible risk of a resurgence of the burdensome conflict which, following the territory’s demand for independence during the dismantlement of the Soviet Union, had set this little Transcaucasian region ablaze between 1991 and 1994 (claiming upwards of 30,000 lives); a war which involved its neighbors Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Sadly, this autumn, hostilities resumed, giving rise to six weeks of deadly fighting before a cease-fire agreement (negotiated under the aegis of Russia) was ratified on 9 November, redrawing the zones controlled by Armenian separatists and the Azerbaijani army. I saw this film online a year ago just as hostilities erupted on 27 September 2020 with an Azerbaijani offensive along the Nagorno-Karabakh Line of Contact established in 1994, with the primary goal of reclaiming the less mountainous districts of southern Nagorno-Karabakh, which were easier to take than the region’s well-fortified interior. In response, Armenia and Artsakh introduced martial law and mobilization of troops. The war lasted 44 days until a peace deal was brokered by Turkey and Russia. Under the agreement, the warring sides kept control of the areas they held within Nagorno-Karabakh at the time of the ceasefire, while Armenia returned the surrounding territories it occupied in 1994 to Azerbaijan.
Nora Martirosyan’s film begins with Alain (played by Grégoire Colin) turning up at the Stepanakert Airport after an eight-hour journey by car from Yerevan, via the Lachine Corridor which cleaves a path through the mountains, Alain is totally ignorant of what has come to pass and of what is at stake in this land lost out in the middle of nowhere. Between technical analyses (25 meters of a hill have been lopped in order to allow for the passage of aircraft; the exact distance from the border established by the cease-fire agreement is controversial which complicates Alain’s assessment of landing procedures, determined according to wind strength, etc.), pressure from officials and media sources, and his discovery of the reality and beliefs of the country – mainly gleaned from his encounter with Edgar (Hayk Bakhryan), a little boy engaged in the curious business of selling “miraculous” water in the surrounds of the airport – our reasonable and incorruptible Westerner Alain ends up testing his own limits and ultimately finds himself dancing with danger. As Alain will learn, “It’s what’s called living on a volcano. You never know when it’s going to stir.”
As it slowly and cleverly reveals the different aspects of this microcosm (the people, the airport, the land), the story penned by Nora Martirosyan, Emmanuelle Pagano, Olivier Torres, and Guillaume André manages not only to drive home the scale of the questions explored (their international geopolitical dimension, issues regarding identity and national borders), it also strikes a fine balance between a nigh-on documentarian exploration (set amidst highly suggestive scenery) and highly dramatic plot twists (a fire, a nocturnal foray into the forest which acts as a front line). All the while maintaining an ongoing thread of tension in a work that has been transformed, by recent events, into a spotlight that can help shed light on the present, as well as a valuable piece of historical archive material.