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Review of the Documentary “1489 (2023)” by Shoghakat Vardanyan.
Review of the Documentary "1489 (2023)" by Shoghakat Vardanyan.

Review of the Documentary “1489 (2023)” by Shoghakat Vardanyan.

“We do not have any details regarding the individuals who are missing in action.”

The number 1489 represents an individual who is missing in action and is also the identification number given to many Armenians whose whereabouts are unknown following conflicts with Azerbaijan. During the recent territorial dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan in September 2020, a 21-year-old student and musician named Soghomon Vardanyan was thrown into battle. After being missing for seven days, his sister Shoghakat decides to use her phone camera to document their search and emotional journey. Her efforts resulted in her receiving the IDFA Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary and the FIPRESCI Award at the same festival.

The personal nature of the documentary becomes apparent from the opening scenes as it portrays a daughter filming her father’s daily life, resembling a home video. Despite the outward appearance of normalcy, a phone call from Shoghakat to the army service responsible for missing persons sheds light on the family’s anguish for the whereabouts of Soghomon, who they have not heard from in a while. Through televised news coverage, the film showcases both the advancements of the war and the intense political disputes.

Unable to restrain their anguish, the father and daughter relocate to Karahunj village where Soghomon’s unit is stationed, in hopes of finding more information. With assistance from the military, the father’s maps, based on the information he previously gathered at home, become more precise. However, the family’s inquiries continue to go unanswered. In a last-ditch attempt to honor her brother or resemble him, Shoghakat shaves her head. At long last, the news arrives.

Shoghakat Vardanyan directs a very personal film that focuses on a heartbreaking event for her family that actually mirrors families whose members are involved in war all over the world. That her parents, and particularly her father, essentially ignore the camera, which seems to have no impact on them, is a feat that should definitely be attributed to the director, but also the overall mentality of the couple. As agony permeates the movie, the misery that the war has brought in Armenia becomes quite evident, with every setting essentially looking rundown.

The documentary becomes even more empathetic with the addition of an older home video that reveals the identity of the brother. This is a testament to the skillful editing of Tigran Baghinyan and Armen Papyan. While the ending may not be a shock, its emotional impact is not affected at all. The director remains respectful when presenting the reactions of both herself and her parents.

To be honest, the lack of professionalism in the documentary can be bothersome at times, as it gives off a home video vibe. Yet the overall closeness of the film, combined with its portrayal of a sadly common concept, truly transforms “1489” into a powerful and impactful piece despite any technical flaws.