By Mike Derderian
Looking at her radiant visage, one realizes it forms the sun smiling to her husband and children, the supporting tree that shelters her siblings from the falling rain and from time to time her tender embrace offers warmth and comfort when life is cold and unkind to us. Haven’t you guessed who we are talking about: well, she is a mother.
With Mother’s Day approaching and a deadline looming in the horizon for both a column and a self-explanatory gift of some sort by sons and husbands, I ask myself: what can a person possibly get for a woman who gave him the most precious gift off all, his life? A gift that he carries with him all the time, everywhere he goes, with every breath he inhales and exhales.
And as the years go by, our gratitude increases, and bringing our mothers a present with a “Best Mom” phrase on the tummy of a little teddy bear becomes less significant, for nothing really compares to the gift of life.
Just imagine a life within a life for nine months, a period during which a woman undergoes a lot of uncomfortable physiological changes that comes to an end with the sharp cry of a baby heard down the chloroform aromatized corridors of a hospital.
Holding that innocent weak child in their hands, both the tearful father and the exhausted mother lovingly and victoriously smile at each other for together they created a life; not knowing that until their baby reaches adulthood many tears will be shed.
I can already imagine your attempts in trying to decipher the strange title of this week’s film, for “Mayrig” is an Armenian word that stands for mother and is pronounced (m-īr-ēg).
When I first saw this 1992 French film, based on a novel by the late French-Armenian Henri Verneuil (who was born Ashod Malakyan) about an Armenian Family living in France, I found myself somehow relating to the main character, Azad, the little boy.
It wasn’t because he was Armenian or that during the film’s flow of events the Armenian genocide was brought into life through the artistic direction of Verenuil—who used the enchanting music of Jean Claude-petit to accompany the scenes of joy, reverie and pain found in the life of one family—but it was because Azad had a loving mother and father.
The film’s events take place during World War I, when thousands of Armenian families were forced to leave their motherland in search for a new start, a new life. For many, France was one of the choices, especially for Hagop and Araxi, Azad’s parents.
Egyptian actor Omar Sharif’s and Italian actress Claudia Cardinale’s portrayal of the Armenian parents was superb and most of all sincere; it allowed the audience a chance to see how parents work hard for their children.
To explain more, Mayrig is a term of endearment for mothers among Armenians. The term indicates how much love and respect everyone in the family bears to a mother, such was the case with Araxi (Cardinale), whom she and her two sisters Anna and Gayane worked as a seamstresses to support the family.
With such a star-studded cast—having French actors like Nathalie Roussel, Isabelle Sadoyan and Jacky Nercessian in the role of Apkar, who played the role of the tormented soul in this drama to add more emotional intensity to the already love-charged film.
Not forgetting Cedric Doucet, Tom Ponsin and Stephne Servais, the three actors who played the role of Azad at different stages of his life, the film’s plot is quite coherent and holds up with no loose ends.
Verneuil attempted to present the diverse aspects of an Armenian boy’s life in a foreign society, especially from the boy’s perspective; as the film is narrated by Azad in the form of flashbacks that allow us to peak into precious moments in his life—like when his mother Araxi, uncovers the buttons of her dress that are actually gold coins as they arrive to France, or when she and Hagop proudly make Baklava with Azad’s help.
One of the heart breaking stories in the film is Apkar’s story, as he recounts his torture while in a mass caravan trail in the desert; a horseshoe was fixed to his bare feet with nails—how inhumane can a humans be? I am not restricting inhumanity to a single race as humankind has been unkind to its own kind since the dawn of time!
This is all I will say about the movie, the rest you’ll have to find out by yourself my dear reader. Each life has another interlaced with it. No matter how far we reach into this world, there is always that influence rubbed on us by our parents. And Verneuil’s film will trigger our minds into thinking on how will we ever repay our mothers’ for all the sacrifices they did for our sake.
Just like Azad, now I know if it weren’t for my mother’s encouragement all these years, you wouldn’t be reading this column, which I wouldn’t be writing in the first place, so to her and to all Mothers: Happy Mother’s Day.
To my Mother Maral Derderian with love…