I Will Not Be Sad in This World
review by KJ Doughton, 21 June 2002
28th Seattle International Film
Armenian Immigrant Zaroohe Najarian
hobbles a bit as she pushes a vacuum cleaner across her living room
carpet, and she’s not a picture of ballerina-like grace as she plops
into her recliner with the delicacy of a boulder. Zaroohe appears as
just another low profile, little old lady in knit slippers and a
red, flannel bathrobe as she sweeps a patio or waters backyard plum
trees. "My mother is unusual," proclaims the admiring son who
crouches behind an easel to paint her picture, "because she is so
By the time
Karina Epperlein’s wise, inventive documentary concludes, however,
it’s made clear that this craggy-faced, ninety-something optimist
with a knack for culinary wizardry is anything but ordinary.
leisurely-paced home movie, I Will Not Be Sad in This World
takes its sweet time lingering on Zaroohe’s wispy, gray hair as it
flips about in the Fresno, California wind. Following her around a
miniature backyard orchard, down the aisles of a supermarket, or in
front of a kitchen sink as she whittles down vegetables for a
masterful dinner dish, Epperlein’s camera treats her subject as an
old friend. We get used to Mrs. Najarian’s looks, her mannerisms,
and her dry humor, until the film’s narrator sweeps us into the
woman’s dramatic past, revealing that "she carries with her stories
of a distant place and time."
We learn that she
survived the systematic extermination of 1.5 million Armenians in
1915, when the Ottoman Government forced thousands of families to
march into the Syrian Dessert and eventually die of disease and
starvation. "It was during World War I," she recalls of the
relatively under-publicized genocide, "and the world did not pay
We are forced to
comprehend the death march through a series of grisly stills showing
Armenians driven barefoot through the sands, many stabbed, shot, or
decapitated along the way as others succumbed to disease and
starvation. In addition to the horrendous death toll that resulted,
there were hundreds of thousands who were forced into exile. For
Zaroohe, the loss of both parents and two brothers were among the
degradations she endured.
We are told that
a subsequent dictator with a penchant for mass human annihilation,
Adolph Hitler, studied the overlooked events in Turkey with intense
interest. In 1939, as he set the gears of the Holocaust into motion,
Hitler silenced co-conspirators who felt that society would never
allow him to fulfill his twisted mission, stating, "Nowadays, who
talks of the extermination of the Armenians?" If the world could
ignore such a travesty once, he reasoned, it was bound to cast a
blind eye again.
As if Zaroohe’s
firsthand experience with this tragic chapter in human history
wasn’t enough, she reveals other tough times that came later. At
age12, she escaped from a Turkish orphanage, where "they tried to
turn us into Turks," then accepted an older man’s hand in marriage
four years later, as a means of relocating to America. Showing her
unconventional, independent spirit even as a young lady, Mrs.
Najarian soon dumped this first husband for another man, and founded
a sewing union for seamstresses. "I had a lot of nerve," she
acknowledges with a smile.
The going became
tough again, when her second husband suffered a stroke and she
dutifully served as his caregiver for over seven years.
Despite all of
these trials and tribulations, "I Will Not Be Sad in this World
portrays 94-year old Zaroohe as a happy person who applies a
carpe diem philosophy with every breath. We see her mix rice,
parsley, and vegetables, and wrap meat with spinach leaves, while
proclaiming, "Cooking is art." We observe as this spirited senior
waves her hands to the rhythm of some spirited Armenian music, like
an ecstatic orchestra conductor. Even during a hospital stay for an
injured hip, Zaroohe is defying the expectations of her nursing
staff. "Usually, we don’t see them up during the first day,"
exclaims a nurse to her son, Pete. "I take it she’s an active
There’s a strong
spirituality that envelopes Epperlein’s subject, as well. Zaroohe
marvels in the growth of some roses that she recently rescued from a
trash dumpster and planted in her backyard garden. She doesn’t
attend church, announcing, "God is with me all the time, in my house
– every minute."
film’s narrator sums up Zaroohe’s ability to shine with optimism,
when she proclaims, "Zaroohe allows pain and despair, then she lets
it go. She practices faith in life, wonder in each moment, and peace
with how it is." Like "Before Leaving," the thoughtful look inside
of a French nursing facility, "I Will Not Be Sad in this World" is a
testimony to the value and wisdom of our elderly.
Seattle International Film Festival
NR - Not Rated.
This film has not yet