From the Vault: The Birth of Culture in Namus

The origin of film culture in a nation comes out of the birth of a national cinema. In the case of Armenia, our sense of national cinema was born on April 16, 1923 when the Armenian State Committee on Cinema was established.

Their first film studio, Armenfilm, came to existence in a year later with their first film, a documentary known as Soviet Armenia (1924). The first feature film the nation produced is debatable. The now forgotten film Pod vlasyu kurdov (1915), also known as The Tragedy of Turkish Armenia or Under The Kurds, was produced by an Armenian filmmaker living in the Soviet Union; however, Namus (1926) is the first feature film born out of the national cinema banner.

Namus is an adaptation of Alexander Shirvanzade’s play of the same name. The film comes in the form of a melodrama and centers on the tragedies two young lovers endure. The lovers, who were engaged as children after surviving a brutal earthquake, are soon separated after offending their culture’s honor codes.

There is a sense of Romeo and Juliet in their tragic love story. The lovers long for each other and are torn apart because of prejudice that stems from their parents. In some sense, the film has lasting effects even more so nearly a century later, with its themes of love, loyalty, and prejudice. 

The film was recently restored and premiered as the opening film for the Arpa International Film Festival in 2010. There are still several frames missing from the film, resulting in jump cuts and freeze frames. The beautiful black-and-white cinematography and inventive use of camera angles make the film stand out as a masterwork and showcase both the director’s technical abilities as well as the nation’s embracing of a national film culture.

The film reflects culture in significant detail, primarily through is production design as well as its portrayal of a wedding ceremony. The film centers on the importance of honor or “namus” in culture and the consequences that can come from breaking tradition. The film heavily revolves around the notion that love in Armenian culture, no matter how strong or substantial, can separated and disregarded if certain moral and honor codes are broken.

The director of the film, Hamo Beknazarian, is considered the father of Armenian cinema. In addition to producing the first feature film, he also produced the first sound film as well, with the groundbreaking film Pepo (1935).

 In a time when today’s generation seems so out of reach from their parent’s generation, partly because of the disintegration of family and tradition in Western culture, Namus resonates on numerous levels. The film illustrates our culture’s customs and traditions through its characters and themes, an aspect of our culture that has been embraced and passed on for centuries.

This article was originally published for Yerevan Magazine on November 7, 2011.