Moments of the Present Drenched in the Past
The 1993 film, Calendar, written and directed by Atom Egoyan, explores the present-day events of an odd-ball photographer intermingled with past events leading up to his present state of bachelor-dom. The film begins with in the past, when the protagonist/photographer (played by Atom Egoyan himself) travels through the Armenian hillside taking pictures to be used for the production of a calendar. He travels along with his wife, who interprets various tidbits of information their Armenian driver keeps providing. There are scenes where the photographer becomes agitated by the driver’s insights shows his jealousy. More and more, throughout the scenes, it is hinted that the wife and the driver are beginning to bond. In the film, these scenes are supposed to be images and memories from the past, though at first this is not readily apparent to the viewer until they realize other scenes are from the present.
In the present-day scenes, the photographer appears to be a bachelor in his own home, and is perpetually revisiting similar first-dates with a variety of woman. Over and over, he has dinner and serves wine to his dates, all of whom end-up asking to use the phone in a perplexing and sensual way. At first this appears to perhaps be a funny coincidence, but eventually it is realized that these dates and scenario is staged by the photographer himself. He is trying to create, and re-create a scenario for a particular reason.
In the flashbacks and flash-forwards throughout the film, there are many innuendos of time, space, memory and recollection. There is also a slight narrative of what memory can do to a person in their present-state.
Visual Clues within Calendar
In the present-day the photographer receives voice messages on his phone’s answering machine from his estranged wife. The scenes in which we hear her messages, the camera’s focus is on the answering machine itself, alongside a calendar sporting the images of the Armenian churches. This visual irony is produced on purpose. The calendar represents time and space, but also represents the final trip the photographer went on with his wife before their separation. The imagery of the abandoned churches may also be symbolic of how the photographer himself ends up being ‘adandoned’ by his wife, but also how he ‘abandons’ her in a way, by distancing himself in the first place. Also, the images of churches symbolize marriage in a traditional sense (being that many people marry in a church of some sort), which to me also connects some ideas and themes within the film: sanctity, the past, marriage, etc.
Within the film there is also the implication that his wife has left him for the driver, or that the photographer at least assumes this is so. We get this hint later in the movie, while the photographer writes a letter to his daughter, he asks if her mommy has a friend with her with a mustache, and he asks what her mommy calls him. This statement implies that the wife now has further communication with the driver/tour guide. He is the only male we’ve seen throughout the film with a mustache.
Why Settle for a False Replica?
It’s interesting that, now in the present, the photographer’s wife keeps leaving voice messages for him, but in her messages she implies that he never picks up the phone or calls her back. It’s interesting that he also stages dates where he has the woman walk away to use his home phone. It appears that he is trying to reinvent the action of his wife calling and leaving him messages. The final girl even appears to look similarly to his estranged wife.
It makes you wonder, if he misses his wife so much, why does he stage mock dates trying to find a woman to replicate her, yet he ignores her phone calls and voice messages. Wouldn’t it make sense he would speak to his real wife and try to work things out with her if he is working so hard to find her double? Perhaps it is too much for him to face and he would prefer a false version of her. This represents his dis-attachment with his surroundings, which is implied has also been the case with this character. We first see signs of this way before his wife leaves him, during the time in their life when they were traveling around Armenia taking pictures of churches. Even then he spoke to himself, saying he would rather stay behind, far away with the camera and watch his wife and the driver walk away, rather than join them. He would rather not partake, but watch from a distance. This also makes me wonder if he was already pulling away from her, or subconsciously pushing her away, before they were ever separated in the first place.
The Past Affects His Present: What was lost, what is regained
It is said that in his more recent films, “Egoyan seems especially sensitive to the aspect of loss which accompanies such communications – the nostalgia and longing they generate for more traditional modes of contact” (Wilson, E.), but I think this is also the case in 1993’s Calendar.
The way in which the photographer goes about his present-day life illustrates how his past has a firm and crippling grip on him. As a bachelor, he is incapable of dating ‘normally’ and is striving to replicate what he once had and has now lost. In trying to find a clone of his wife, he is desperately trying to hold on to what he has lost… his wife, his marriage. I would say he is unsuccessful at regaining what he has lost, and would do better at this attempt if he communicated with his wife instead of closing her off even more-so. The calendar remaining on the wall is also a reminder of how the photographer is keeping past events connected to his future ones. The photographer lost his family, his wife and a daughter. It’s not a literal place, or a time… but in a way he lost that ‘time’ in his life figuratively.
Although the photographer does not succeed at regaining all that he has lost, his memory succeeds at illustrating what he has lost by reliving the moments before losing them. (The period of time where the photographer traveled with his wife before she left him.) This is something I think many people do, they re-think or mentally re-live moments in their life where they may have some regret or wish to do over.
“installation(s) … by fellow Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, deserve and warrant deeper critical attention. For (they) constitute, I believe, not so much a reflection of our current mediological concerns, as – however nostalgic – a reflection upon them. As Svetlana Boym suggested, nostalgia need not be obtuse and regressive … nostalgia can be ‘reflective’ in the sense of thinking, rather than mirroring (Boym, 2001: xvi)” (Nardelli). I agree that Egoyan did a great job of creating a sense of nostalgia through the intentional exploration of ‘thinking’ and ‘memories’ in Calendar.
Camera Shots/Visual Notes
Visually, there are various scenes cut and placed throughout the film to crosshatch the past and the present. To make each varying scene more memorable and to make the transitions more seamless, each time period has its own camera angles and style repeated. For example, the dining table scene is shot the same way every time we see it. The scenes where the various women use the photographer’s home phone are also similarly filmed, with similar shots and angles. Even the pieces of film from times past, where the photographer, his wife and driver are touring the churches, are filmed similarly. These scenes appear to be visually rougher, as though they are filmed with a hand-held camera. The shots are equally unsteadied, shaky, and even blurry at times. These visuals also add to the realization that these scenes are from the past, not present, and can be blurry in one’s memory as well.
This movie breaks up time and space in many ways similar to how San Soleil and The Mirrors did. As in The Mirrors, the time here is not linear, but goes back and forth. We see moments of the present intermingled with moments of the past. There are various time periods connecting with each another in one way or another. It is up to the viewer to take all the pieces of the puzzle and put them together in a way that explains the order of events and the reason for the outcomes. Like San Soleil, Calendar makes a commentary on the idea of memory and time and how they affect one another.
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