Magazine “If the wind falls”: a literate meditation on the borders

A man arrives at an airport. Set in a remote location, surrounded by vast desolate landscapes, this modern building looks like a mirage, not so much out of place as out of time. The airport, he knows, is empty but not abandoned. There may not be any planes, but there are employees walking around, traffic controllers bustling around the tower, and cleaning ladies complaining about their Sisyphean chores. Man is expected, after all. It is he who will assess whether this “cathedral of an airport”, as it is described to him, with its showy architectural flourishes that contrast sharply with its dusty surroundings, will finally be checked and approved for operation.

The premise of “Should the Wind Drop” by Nora Martirosyan reads like news. There is a minimalism to its plot and characters – not to mention its setting – that makes it feel like a distilled proposition, meant to capture in miniature the state of the Republic of Artsakh, a separatist state of the South Caucasus. In case you are unfamiliar with the Republic of Artsakh (also known as the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic NKR), the violence it suffered during the 1990s or the current ceasefire that has makes Stepanakert Airport a shell in its own right since it was first closed during the First Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1990, “Should the Wind Drop” opens with an airy and charged conversation exhibitions between Alain Delange (Grégoire Colin) and his local driver.

A Frenchman responsible for investigating the airport and ensuring that it complies with international standards, Delange is a perfect audience substitute. He is as ignorant as we are of the Republic of Artsakh and the violence of the early 1990s that led to the ceasefire. (“Of course you didn’t know that,” her driver teases. “You were looking at Yugoslavia back then.”) Luckily, Martirosyan – in a screenplay she co-wrote with Olivier Torres, Guillaume André and novelist Emmanuelle Pagano – never bogged down in details. Essentially sketched out, the main problem for Delange is that of a contested border, which may or may not leave the airport sufficient airspace for safe passage for planes which might need, in an emergency, to do so. turn around.

For Delange, this could well be a regular mission. But for its guests, the possibility of getting the airport back to working order is a national emergency. After all, an airport is a border in itself, a border that should be recognized by the international community if planes could suddenly enter and exit Stepanakert, further connecting the region to the outside world. As it stands, the region is only recognized by its border with Armenia (the country, in fact, that submitted Martinosyan’s film to the Academy as a film for an international Oscar feature). There is a need for those around Delange but for the most part he seems unmoved. Colin plays Delange as a distant guy from numbers, focused on coordinates and maps, not quite keen on delving into geopolitical diplomacy.

Against the absurdity of seeing a rigid bureaucracy collide with a reality as fallible as the humans who inhabit it, novice filmmaker Martirosyan often leaves Delange and turns her camera towards Edgar (a tired, wide-eyed Hayk Bakhryan). The little child, who runs with two plastic jugs in the trailer, selling cups of water to everyone he meets, is as curious as he is indifferent to the world that Delange represents.

Edgar sees no problem walking through the airport fields to save travel time, and he never minds the dilapidated gates that are erected precisely to keep the area away from intruders (an obvious requirement for an airport). functional). Initially, Edgar is positive proof for Delange that Stepanakert Airport is sure not to succeed, more a noble promise than a functioning infrastructure. It’s almost comical how obvious it is that his report is going to be negative – no matter how prone to coaxing and cajoling. Except, perhaps predictably, that Delange begins to thaw out and see this isolated country and the people around it for who they are and who they want to become, for the country they know the airport will make. .

As a portrait of the Republic of Artsakh, “Should the Wind Drop” is remarkable, sparse but deep with just enough visual poetry to slice through what may on the page appear to be a simple and utterly implausible premise. With the help of DP Simon Roca, who makes this arid landscape a character in its own right; the ragged score of composer Pierre Yves Cruaud; and co-editor (and recent Oscar nominee) Yorgos Lamprinos (“The Father”), Martirosyan has created a sort of languidly paced Kafkaesque fable. So, when the film enters its third act, forcing Delange to grapple with the reality of a contested border, the Armenian filmmaker artfully captures the near-farce of this scenario where men armed with guns and bombs end up making the Delange’s final report almost unimportant. , his last moments punctuating the many meditations of the film with the punch of a big kicker.

The literality of “Should the Wind Drop” is what makes it so spellbinding, even though the film can often seem intentionally obscuring, both too light and too expansive. Its themes, decor, and characters wrap tightly around each other, echoing with the skillful precision of a writer who never misses a word, punctuation mark, or vivid image. They all serve the same purpose; underline the alienating existence of a country without borders but without international legitimacy; the melancholy of an airport without planes; the overwhelming cruelty of feeling out of place in a place you call home.

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