It's a shame that the first straight historical feature to deal with the Armenian genocide of 1915 is such a poor film. The theme (already dealt with in several documentaries and Atom Egoyan's tricksy Ararat) deserves a better platform than this melodrama with its stilted dialogue and rambling script.
The Lark Farm feels like a condensation of one of those multi- part historical TV dramas made on a more or less annnual basis by Italian public broadcaster Rai (whose cinema arm co-produced this).
Only Giuseppe Lanci's lush widescreen photography, and the passion and commitment that co-leads Paz Vega and Arsinee Khanjian put into their roles as an Armenian daughter and mother swept away by a wave of ethnic hatred, save it from imploding.
It's telling that despite its high-profile cast and glossy production values, the Taviani brothers' film has yet to confirm a sales agent. Still, The Lark Farm's unsophisticated mix of sentiment and gore makes it perfect for home viewing.
Broadcasters who decide to take a chance on this will at least have some media controversy to work with (there were several TV news crews outside the cinema after the film's Berlinale press screening). The Armenian massacres are still a political hot potato, more than 90 years after the event.
The film splits into two parts, conveniently for TV programmers. The first deals with the life of a prosperous Armenian family in a rural corner of Turkey far away from Istanbul with its Young Turks and ethnic tensions. The Avakians get on, mostly, with their Turkish neighbours (they even speak the same language - dubbed Italian).
When the storm breaks, in a scene of brutality that is all the more disturbing for its staginess, part two kicks in: the women, only survivors of the massacre, are forced to march to Aleppo and beyond. Those who don't die of hunger or exhaustion on the march will be finished off, it is implied, in the desert.
The Lark Farm is more interested in pushing all the right dramatic buttons than the serious historical treatment of a tragic subject. So there's a bit of romance (Paz Vega's Nunik has two successive Turkish love interests - the second a soldier-with-a-conscience played by Moritz Bleibtreu), a bit of adventure-intrigue (centring on a ludicrous 'company of beggars' that limps to the rescue) and a lot of chest heaving.
With its static characters, dated orchestral soundtrack and ultra-conventional progression of shot frames from medium to close-up and back, The Lark Farm has something of a 1960s Bible epic - only those were generally better written.
There are occasional glimpses of the stark political expressionism of early Taviani classics like Padre Padrone, but these stand out like islands in a sea of viscous sentiment.
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani
from the book
by Antonia Arslan