★★★☆☆ Actor Michael A. Goorjian may be best-known as Neve Campbell's love interest in Party of Five, but he has been directing independent features since 1997. His paternal grandparents survived the Armenian genocide, and so his latest film Amerikatsi is a deeply personal film.

★★★☆☆

Actor Michael A. Goorjian may be best-known as Neve Campbell’s love interest in Party of Five, but he has been directing independent features since 1997. His paternal grandparents survived the Armenian genocide and so his latest film Amerikatsi, a comedy drama in which an American-Armenian is repatriated to his homeland, is a deeply personal film.

During the genocide of 1918, a young Charlie escapes to grow up in the United States. After the Soviet Union invites the Armenian diaspora to repatriate to the motherland, a now-adult Charlie (Goorjian) returns to Armenia in search of his roots. He is hopelessly naïve, apparently having no understanding of the privations or the harsh strictures of Soviet society. After he befriends the wife of a senior official, Sona (Nelli Uvarova), he witlessly invokes his religion, complains about the accommodation that the Party has provided him and, worst of all, promotes ‘cosmopolitanism’ by wearing a polka dot tie.

The men of Sona’s husband Dmitry (Mikhail Trukhim) pick Charlie up in the dead of night, meaning only to scare him, but crossed bureaucratic wires lead him to an indeterminate prison sentence and the ever-present threat of a spell in Siberia. Charlie’s naivety and the Kafka-esque cruelty of the Soviet machine gesture towards satire akin to Armando Iannucci’s The Death of Stalin, but there’s nothing remotely pointed or acerbic enough here to make anything but the broadest of points about the Stalinist USSR. Indeed, in its jaunty – surprisingly agreeable, given the subject matter – sentimentality, Amerikatsi tends more towards Roberto Benigni, right down to Goorjian’s irrepressibly optimistic performance that channels his Italian counterpart.

After a freak earthquake shatters one of the prison’s outer walls, Charlie realises that he can see into one of the guards’ homes, and through that window he see a vision of hope. He makes sure to take his meals only when Tigran (Hovik Keuchkerian) does, and when he dances or argues with his wife, Charlie wills their marriage to succeed. Through that window, Charlie discovers the homeland he came in search of, and over the years, he forges an unbreakable bond with the guard. If this all sounds unlikely, that’s only because it is.

Time and time again, Charlie is protected from being transported to Siberia by fortunate coincidence, while his friendships with the prison guards occasionally strain believability. And while he is never less than a loveable and compelling protagonist his own indefatigability errs on the simplistic. Nevertheless, as a fable Amerikatsi hits the big emotional notes: it’s an American tale in reverse, told sincerely and personally. Sentimental, yes, simplistic too, but also honest and even affirming.

Christopher Machell