“White Dreams” Based on Vahan Totovents’s Novel
The people familiar with the Soviet Armenian cinema probably have watched the film “White Dreams” (1985), starring such great actors as Sos Sargsyan, Henrikh Alaverdyan and Galya Novents. Especially well-known is the music in the film, written by brilliant musician Tigran Mansuryan, which perfectly complements the atmosphere of the history.
The plot of the beloved film is taken from the memoir novel “Life on the Old Roman Road” (1930) written by Vahan Totovents (1894—1937). I personally was unexpectedly pleased to discover about writer’s childhood in the series of intertwining plot lines of the writer's great story which became a base for one of the best creations of “Armenfilm” film studio.
The pot of the movie is this:
“The barber Akob is a passionate pigeon fancier. In the eyes of the “decent society” that was a shame. On the eve of the wedding of his beloved daughter with the son of a rich merchant, Akob was given an ultimatum: either he gets rid of the pigeonhouse or he can forget about his daughter’s marriage…”
Here is the extract from the novel, written in 1930 (the abridged version)
“We had a neighbor, and he was keeping pigeons. His name was Akob pigeon fancier. Keeping pigeons was considered to be the most humiliating thing of that time. At school, the teacher spat in the face of a student who had not learned the lesson, and shouted:
— You haven’t learned the lesson, wretched pigeon fancier!
Nobody wanted to get marry with pigeon fanciers, and none of the parents wanted to marry their children with such people. But we, the children, loved pigeons, and the pigeon fanciers were heroes for us. The prejudices related to it were strange for the children.
I had one desire — to become an orphan and keep pigeons. Every day I climbed to the roof — to admire Akob’spigeons so that nobody could notice me. It was considered shameful for the members of my family to get up the roof and admire Akob’s pigeons. Driven by a burning desire I always got up the roof and was looking at them so that nobody could notice me.
Our neighbor Akob — pigeon fancier — was a barber. To his craft he devoted two-three hours a day, while the rest of the time he was spending on the roof, admiring pigeons. Although Akob was considered a good, neat barber, he had few customers.
Years went by, but he was keeping on acting childish. Sometimes he didn’t even come to barbershop. He shaved mechanically, never taking his eyes off the window.Every time he noticed a pigeon in the sky, rushed to the door with a razor in his hand, forgetting about the client.
Years went by. Akob’s daughter grew up and was becoming prettier day by day. The people then started avoiding not Akob’s wife, but his daughter.
— Oh my God, why did you give me a daughter! — was weeping the mother.
Akob and his wife swore not to marry their daughter with a pigeon fancier. The wife repeated all the time:
— Forget your pigeons. The whole city scolds your daughter…
And what could Akob do? Could he silence the whole city? He scolded everyone with the last words. But what's the point?
Meanwhile, the poor girl was forced to leave school, because even the teachers called her “the pigeon’s daughter” and every time she was not ready for the lesson, they used to say:
— They say your father keeps pigeons, right?
Akob was thinking what to do and found a way: he decided to grow a beard. If the pigeon fancier had a beard, people didn’t curse his wife or mother, they usually cursed his beard. But one beard was not enough for the people to leave his daughter alone. Often she was coming home in tears.
— What has happened, my dear? — asked Akob.
— They insulted me…
Akob held his beard and sighed…
Akob was earning less money day by day. The situation was hopeless, and he decided to sell his best pair of pigeons for five gold coins. It cost him half his life. The only consolation were the chicks that left.
At nights, it seemed to him that some people climbed onto the roof, opened the door of the pigeon house and carried away, carried away, carried away pigeons.
— I’ll not allow you to take them away, — he shouted in a dream, woke up in horror, jumped up like a man possessed, ran barefoot onto the roof, opened the door of the pigeon house and calmed down.
Finally, Akob decided not to sell the pigeons. He couldn’t imagine them flying, living … but not belonging to him. He couldn’t come to terms with that idea. His daughter’s fate was tormenting him.
How much he did want to be alone in the world, only him and his pigeons: a perfect life!
Once Akob climbed onto the roof. He had not let the pigeons out for a long time. The expression of his face was terrible, more terrible than when he grabbed a blade and went outside to fight. The daughter rushed to the mother, hugged her and started crying.
— Why are you crying again? Did they insult you again?
She could barely answer:
Mother rushed to the roof,and Akob had already opened the door, and the pigeons flew out. Akob, standing, looked for a long time at the sun that was setting in the distant mountains, then took off the fez, caught the pigeon flying towards him, took out a knife ... He threw away the pigeon's head. Blood spattered on his chest, on his white shirt. He caught the second pigeon, but his hands weakened, the knife fell out. The wife who ran up to the roof at that moment saw a bloody knife, all in her husband's blood, his eyes frozen in horror ... I heard the cry of Akob's wife and climbed onto our roof. All the neighbors were there. It seemed to all of us that Akobbeated his wife, and his daughter was trying to save her mother.
The pigeon fancier, hugging his only daughter and crying, was whispering:
— Oh my snow-white dove… I will sacrifice all my pigeons to you…
And this child with gray hair started crying again…”