Atom Egoyan’s 1993 film – in which a photographer travels to rural Armenia with his wife to shoot images for a commercial calendar – is named both for that project but also the year that elapses between the trip and the scenes of him, alone, back in his apartment in Canada. The film shuttles between these time periods, so that the image of a church on a calendar cuts to the scene in which that image was made. The film consequently captures some of the camera’s uncanny ability to collapse temporal and spatial divides while retaining a sense of the static; as Susan Sontag wrote, “Photographs are a way of imprisoning reality... One can't possess reality, one can possess images – one can't possess the present but one can possess the past.”

The film is divided into three locations: Armenia, where the action is shot entirely from the perspective of the photographer; Toronto, where a camera records a number of dates between the photographer and various women; and the photographer’s answering machine, which sits beside the calendar. The photographer and his wife are played by Egoyan himself and his real-life wife, actor Arsinée Khanjian. It was an intimate production: made for less than $80,000 the Armenian production team consisted of the couple and the driver driving from church to church and improvising most of the dialogue. 

Technology plays an intermediary role in the film: from the camera which obstructs the photographer’s engagement with the country of his heritage, to the telephone he rigs in order to overhear his dates’ phone manner, to the answering machine which injects messages from his estranged wife into his living room. All three technologies are designed to capture reality and to aid communication, but their dysfunction belies the problem at the core of the photographer’s psyche: the inability to participate in a more authentic form of observation, one predicated on spontaneous engagement, enthusiasm and the banishment of the ego. Egoyan wrote that Calendar was “a story with the most minimal of plots… a film about the making of images and how these images construct both a personal and a national identity.” These images in particular – patchwork, static, sometimes baffling – describe too the effort to build a coherent sense of self out of diasporic fracture.

Egoyan is making a sly joke about the nature of the auteur, and in particular the play between alienation and erotic displacement. Sontag also wrote that “A photograph is both a pseudo-presence and a token of absence… The sense of the unattainable that can be evoked by photographs feeds directly into the erotic feelings of those for whom desirability is enhanced by distance.” The burgeoning romance between the wife and the driver contrasts with the high artifice the photographer brings to his later  conquests, and also to the fact that the photographer fails to return his estranged wife’s calls: perhaps for the photographer, eroticism is located somewhere in the avoidance, the evasion. ◉

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