Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Serge Avedikian: ‘I never rejected my homosexual experiences as a youngster, and never thought of them to be within the confines of normality or abnormality’

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Serge Avedikian - French Armenian director, actor, writer and producer - made an unforgettable mark on the history of world gay cinema by playing in a very different wartime love story - Nous étions un seul homme (We Were One Man), film by renown French director Philippe Vallois in 1979. [Read “Modern gay classic” French Armenian Serge Avedikian won Palme d'Or 2010 at Cannes]. Serge was recently in Yerevan to participate in Golden Apricot international film festival.

This exclusive interview was first published in October 2004 on the website of the former Armenian gay rights group in France - www.agla.info (no longer exists). Thanks to Micha Meroujean, head of then AGLA France, I can now post it, with accompanied pictures, on Unzipped: Gay Armenia.

This extract - from the original interview in French - was translated using Google Translate. I only slightly edited it.

*Philippe Vallois (left) and Serge Avedikian (right) with former AGLA France
*Philippe Vallois (left) and Serge Avedikian (right)
*Philippe Vallois

[Interview and photos by Didier K.]

Exclusive: Interview with Serge Avedikian

AGLA: You are the only actor of Armenian origin who played the role of a homosexual and, to my knowledge, you have never denied this role. What was your perception of homosexuals at the time when you shot "We Were One Man”?

SA: This is the first film I shot as an actor in 1979. I was a young stage actor and I had just done "Avignon", and Philippe Valois had seen pictures of me in an agency. He was not necessarily looking for a gay actor although there were many actors who were gay but not out but everybody knew them.

AGLA: Especially at that time, when homosexuality was not yet decriminalised in France; we had to wait until 1981.

SA: I didn't remember that. Moreover, at the time we were kidding by saying "the guy is from the building". It was sort of a password!

In fact, the director was seeking someone who could have a high sensitivity combined with a slightly wild side, and when we met, it worked instantly.

Philippe Valois did not hide at all that he was gay. He introduced me to his friends, when I went to his home.

I always felt comfortable with gay guys while not being gay myself. I didn’t hide from Philippe the fact that I had homosexual experiences as a youngster. I never rejected those experiences, and never thought of them to be within the confines of normality or abnormality.

I felt totally at ease and loved this project when I read the script, nothing shocked me. "We Were One Man" is not a gay or militant film per se. It is a film about an impossible love story between a “mentally deranged” boy who escaped from a psychiatric hospital and lives in the forest, having encounters with the prostitutes of the village, and a German soldier he captures and with whom he finally accepts his love.

With Philippe we had planned and agreed on intimate scene, but in the end, it was I who staged it in a certain way. Like it or not, it's so complicated to do an intimate scene.... I remember very well the scene when I am lying on the bed, on my belly, and I lifted my shirt to give myself to him, cheerfully showing my ass in a gesture quite natural but shy. Then we filmed the love scene between two of us, then the threesome.

AGLA: Did this role embarrass you in the Armenian community?

SA: If this role would have embarrassed me, I could not do it. In addition, the Armenian community has never talked about this movie. The film which made me known in the community was "The Red Sweater". Right after it "We Were One Man" was released... When the community media outlets were interviewing me about "The Sweater..." I was also speaking of "We Were One Man". And somehow they never asked me questions about it.

I told them: "You know, I made another movie you should go see?"

I must say that by that time there were only few newspapers, like Gamk and Haratch, and that's it. The community was very closed on itself.

I did not talk about it in the community, but my friends have seen and they all liked it.

This film has gone somehow unnoticed by the public, even though some curious minds went to see it thanks to the success of “The Read Sweater”.

AGLA: What is your perception of gay Armenians and do you think that these two words can add up (work together)?

SA: At the time when the film was released, when people were speaking of homosexuality they were speaking of it as of minority. I myself was already in a minority. Yes, I think being gay and Armenian makes a “double” minority, and in the end it could almost make up a majority ! (laughing)

The word "minority" or "marginality" never deranged me, but at the same time I would not like them to be perceived as negative or militant specificity.

When you're part of a specificity, you live in the society by hiding it and that is actually the case for many people, or you live openly and therefore you place yourself in the provocation to the establishment. And that's really not interesting.

In the case of gay Armenians, this becomes a combination of provocations and that could be a double disadvantage in the community.

And I do not see the problem of being gay and Armenian, openly, here, now, in France and claim it as such.

AGLA: We do not believe we are still at the beginning of understanding or acceptance of homosexuality in Armenia. Local gays cannot wait to live their lives, they have few options: hide or leave!

SA: Before us, long ago, Charles Aznavour sang "Like they say …" (Comme ils disent) during his tour in Yerevan. At least I hope he did. And I believe that people who heard it received this song with great emotion even if they were Soviet apparatchiks. Same kind of example, when I screened "We Were One Man" in the Cinematheque of Yerevan, the cinema hall was full, and this is for a film that was never shown on French television.
[Unzipped: Gay Armenia: WOW! I didn’t know that the film was screened in Yerevan !!]

Published in October 2004 on www.agla.info
Interview and photos by Didier K.

No comments: