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Sahakyants, Robert

Entry updated 4 March 2022. Tagged: Film, People.

(1950-2009) Armenian animator and director born in Azerbaijan; his family moved to Armenia in 1964. He studied at the Khachatur Abovyan Pedagogic Institute, though not often enough, being expelled for non-attendance in 1970; by then he had joined the Armenfilm studio as an animator. Sahakyants was appointed as a director in 1972, producing numerous cartoons. In 2008 he was made a People's Artist of the Republic of Armenia. His surname is sometimes spelt "Saakyants" or "Saakiants".

Sahakyants used many animation styles in his work; some are simple and fairly straightforward; others darker and harsher in look. The best are notable for their Absurdist and surreal touches. Many of his shorts are fantasies, often based on the fables and fairy tales (see Fabulation) of Armenian writers such as Mkhitar Gosh (1130-1213), Vardan Aygektsi (?   -1250) and Hovhannes Tumanyan (1869-1923). As well as directing, he wrote or co-wrote most of the films discussed below.

Sf works include The Lesson (1987); Wind (1988; vt Veter); and Ananasbananas (2004), which has some similarities to The Lesson. Here a Spaceship lands on a planet and the astronauts are met by an Alien who explains they will be transformed into any noun they utter (so might change several times in a conversation): this proves to be the case, except – to the alien's exasperation – for one unimaginative, dim astronaut. The other astronauts merrily continue shapeshifting even after they leave the planet, infuriating the command centre, who therefore put the unimaginative astronaut in charge. An "ananas" is a pineapple, so the title might be read as Pineapplebananas. The Ark (1997; vt L'arche), is set on a Post-Holocaust Earth where a rat rummages through humanity's relics; it opens a book, and within we see the age of the Dinosaurs. One sings Beethoven's Ode to Joy amongst the volcanoes; the book then becomes a collage of modern creatures (lions, elephants and so forth), which separate to inhabit a now verdant landscape: the animals joyously take up the song and, as it ends, the rat closes the book, which is revealed to be the Red Data Book. Signs of Intelligent Life (2002; vt Signs Of A Rational Life) has a man looking at the world through a microscope and sees much oddity, including a group of blind men, each with a hand on the shoulder of the next, walking in a circle; when it starts to rain, a centurion thoughtfully nails an umbrella to the top of the crucified Christ's cross; the film ends with a spaceship launching, piercing the microscope's lenses to impale the man's eye, ending up orbiting his brain.

Sahakyants's fantasies include The Congregation of Mice (1978), in which a cat terrorizes a group of mice who hold a meeting to decide what to do: one suggests a bell is put round its neck, but each nominated "brave soul" finds an excuse not to do so. Though consisting largely of just a group of mice talking, the animation, using dark blues throughout, is interesting. In Who Will Tell a Fable (1982) a trickster king promises half his kingdom to anyone who tells a fable that makes him say, "It can't be true, I don't believe it."; but if the king says he believes the story, then all the teller's property is his. After some absurd tales which the king insists he believes, a child outwits him by saying he is here to collect repayment for the gold his village lent the King – which the King realizes he has to say is true: eventually the boy ends up with half the kingdom. In Wow, a Talking Fish! (1983), probably his best known work, a fisherman catches a talking fish; though not believing its assurances that it will benefit him to do so, he kindly releases it back into the sea. Sometime after, he accidentally summons Eh-Ack, a "kind wizard" whose appearance constantly Shapeshifts in a disturbing manner; he gifts the fisherman with a table that produces food when rapped thrice (see Magic) ... but then reveals the catch – he will return at midnight and the fisherman must answer his riddles or die. When Eh-Ack arrives at the fisherman's house he discovers a young man has preceded him, who now utters a nonsensical, punning account of his journey there, confusing the wizard, who flies off in bewilderment and explodes. The Young Man then reveals himself to be the released fish. The Blue Sea White Foam (1984) has a fisherman finding a bottle in his nets: his grandson opens it, freeing a wizard king who insists he must become his apprentice and heir; however the grandson eventually outsmarts him, tricking him into returning into the bottle. Sahakyants also directed A Midsummer Night's Dream (1992) for the BBC television series Shakespeare: The Animated Tales (1992-1994) (see William Shakespeare).

Aside from the Shakespeare, the above are Satires and/or fables: other shorts are also overtly Political, such as The Button (1989), which goes through the day of a Soviet official who, whenever he presses a button – be it alarm clock, radio, phone, nipple – causes a part of the city to explode; Everything is Fine (1991), a dark look at the violence that arose from the break-up of the Soviet Union, particularly in the Caucasus region, including digs at the then Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev; and Elections (1994; original title Yntrutyunner), a cynical take on the 1991 Armenian presidential elections. [SP]

Robert Arshavir Sahakyants

born Baku, Azerbaijan: 30 August 1950

died Yerevan, Armenia: 24 September 2009

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