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SHEFFIELD DOC FEST 2024

Critique : My Sweet Land

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- Le documentaire de Sareen Hairabedian dévoile les espoirs, les peurs, les rêves et les luttes quotidiennes d'un garçon d'Artsakh, dont l'enfance est indissociable du contexte militaire local

Critique : My Sweet Land

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

The notion of “homeland” in a globalised world might sound outdated, but only to those who have voluntarily chosen a vagabond’s life. For the ones who have lost the privilege to choose where to live, and especially to stay in the place they were born, the concept of a native land has taken on the hyperbolised dimensions of a dream. Eleven-year-old Armenian boy Vrej is from the Republic of Artsakh (perhaps better known as Nagorno-Karabakh), a tiny territory mostly populated by Armenians, which has been the source of discord between Armenia and Azerbaijan since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Hence, living there is like inhabiting a minefield – both figuratively and literally – and throughout his short life, Vrej has already tasted the bitterness of exile and the longing for his forcibly abandoned home that might cease to exist at any moment.

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Sareen Hairabedian's My Sweet Land, freshly presented in the International First Feature Competition of Sheffield Doc/Fest, follows his trajectory between his village in Artsakh, the safer Yerevan and back again after another flare-up of the ongoing conflict in the autumn of 2020. It’s a coming-of-age journey in the guise of a road movie in which maturity has apparently come to pass earlier than usual under the constant threat of military shelling, displacement or outright extermination.

“Prove to me that we exist as a country,” demands an Artsakh teacher provocatively while explaining in class the importance of state recognition by the international community in confirming its independence. “We live here,” says Vrej, and his short but clear reasoning, as simple as it is, sounds way more legitimate than any signed agreements. Later on, more of Vrej's reactions and thoughts contrast with the official political rhetoric overheard on TV programmes that his grandma listens to – deliberately complicated as if to command respect while actually masking the inability of those in power to deal with the humanitarian crisis in the region. Another weapon used by politicians is the militarisation of the juvenile mind from an early age, ensuring that every boy is ready to die for a state that, in turn, is incapable of providing basic stability. Initially resembling an introductory piece on a generally little-known and -discussed conflict, the film's narration, led by an all-encompassing and explorative camera, eventually provides a deeper, personalised perspective through the possibly least politicised viewpoint of a boy craving a peaceful home.

Vrej, on the threshold between childhood and adolescence, is immersed in the aforementioned environment, while the festival website recommends the film for adult audiences only. It turns out that what in privileged, peaceful Europe is deemed inappropriate for young eyes is, in one of numerous parts of the modern, troubled world, merely everyday reality for a whole host of children. Furthermore, watching the film in the knowledge of how Artsakh, one of three ancient provinces of Armenia, was silently granted to Azerbaijan by the international community, makes it an even more heartbreaking experience, as the realisation of the boy's worst fears of losing his homeland is anticipated throughout the whole running time.

The denouement, with Vrej addressing the camera and asking if this will be a film with a happy or a tragic ending, is devastating. It’s as if he clearly realises that his life is on the line and that the question of whether or not he will survive this reality depends on the whims of screenwriters – not of movies, but of human destinies.

My Sweet Land was produced by the USA’s HAI Creative in co-production with France’s Sister Productions and Ireland’s Soilsíu Films.

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(Traduit de l'anglais)

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