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France / Armenia / Belgium

Nora Martirosyan • Director of Should the Wind Drop

“My main question was: how, through cinema, can a country that has no international legitimacy exist visually and cinematographically?”

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- Armenia's entry for the Oscar for Best International Feature Film is the portrait of a forgotten place seeking recognition

Nora Martirosyan • Director of Should the Wind Drop
(© Gohar Galustian)

The first feature by French-Armenian director Nora Martirosyan, Should the Wind Drop [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Nora Martirosyan
film profile
]
, is Armenia's entry for the upcoming Oscar for Best International Feature Film (see the news). We talked to the director about her connection to the small, self-proclaimed republic that serves as the protagonist of her movie.

Cineuropa: Where did the inspiration for the story come from? And why the theme of the airport?
Nora Martirosyan:
The first desire or interest came from the place – this small, self-proclaimed republic, where I went for the first time in 2009. Its name is Nagorno-Karabakh, or Artsakh, in Armenian. When I was there, I realised that I saw everything that corresponded to a state, such as a parliament, the infrastructure, the roads and the cities. But if you look on Google Maps, it doesn't exist. I asked myself how this paradox could be shown in cinema, and through what kind of narrative. Then I discovered the airport, and I thought it was the perfect symbol for the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh, which wants to take flight and be recognised, but which is not allowed to do so. I wrote the narrative around the airport, with all of the characters connected with it in one way or another.

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For how long did you visit the self-proclaimed republic, and how did you do your research?
It was a very peculiar way to make the film, since I didn't write my story first and then look for the locations; it was the other way around. Since 2009, I’ve been to Nagorno-Karabakh every summer and looked for the places that were important and relevant in order to describe the country. Then I set my action in these places. In fact, when we went there in 2018 for the shoot, I knew the place by heart. We shot all over the small, self-proclaimed republic.

How did the people in Nagorno-Karabakh react to the shoot? How was your experience there?
This place that wants to be recognised needs to be seen; it needs the attention. All of the locals and the government, everybody, were so happy that we were looking at them through a camera lens. We therefore had their full support. But one should be aware that this small, self-proclaimed republic is not a peaceful place. There were snipers and mines in the fields, so we had to be very careful. We had to take care not to go too close to the border. While we were shooting, it was relatively peaceful, but we knew we were living on a volcano, so to speak, as one of the characters says in the film. This tension that we felt, I wanted it to exist in the movie. The music in the film conveys the tension that this place carries inside of it. In 2020, around one-and-a-half years after we shot the film, a terrifying war broke out all over the place. It turns out that now, the film has somehow become an archive, a record of this peaceful time. It shows a situation, an atmosphere that doesn't exist any more, but also a number of places that have changed their status and their definition.

What is the story behind the tale of the child and his water business? Why is it important for the film?
Like everything in the film, this story is an allegory. The magical water that the boy sells comes from the toilets of the airport. But as he believes in its magical power, it works: people drink it and feel better. This is a metaphor for the whole film. If you believe strongly that Nagorno-Karabakh will be recognised, if you really hope it, then maybe fiction can be stronger than reality.

How did you find the child?
When I first visited Nagorno-Karabakh, I met a little boy by the name of Edgar in one of the villages, and we did some test shoots. But by the time we had found money for the shoot, Edgar had grown up, done his military service and got married. So we needed to do another casting session. I guess I must have seen all of the boys aged between eight and 12 in Nagorno-Karabakh. We finally chose six of them. The five others who do not play the role of Edgar form his circle of friends.

How did you decide on the rest of the cast?
There are only five professional actors, while the rest are non-professionals. The latter are people I met during my trips to Nagorno-Karabakh and who became important to me. I tried to make the actors, both professional and non-professional, perform in the most natural and simple way possible.

What was the most important aspect for the development of the visual concept?
Visually, I had to describe a place. The idea was to draw, with a film, a space determined and limited by the borders. I wanted to talk about the borders without actually showing them. With each image, the challenge was to spot where we find ourselves inside of the self-proclaimed republic, and how far we are from the borders. My main question was: what defines a country? Its borders, villages, cities, roads, forests or mountains? How, through cinema, can a country that has no international legitimacy exist visually and cinematographically?

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