The quiet, melancholy indie "Aram, Aram," the feature debut of writer-director Christopher Chambers, tells a multigenerational Armenian immigrant yarn through the eyes of a suddenly orphaned 12-year-old Lebanese boy.
His home life in Beirut struck by tragedy, young Aram (John Roohinian) is sent to Los Angeles' Little Armenia to live with his grandfather Arsen (Levon Sharafyan), who runs a modest shoe repair business. The old guardian tries to instill in his grieving charge a sense of community and pride. Impressionable Aram is distracted, however, by the serious-looking gangster-wannabe Hakop (Sevak Hakoyan), who routinely visits Arsen's shop to offer him protection from those who target Armenians.
It's not hard to see where this is all going, as clichéd as Chambers' clashing signifiers are — one generation's hoodies and rap music versus the old world pleasures of pastries and poetry — but he puts a lot of trust in the emotional weather of his actors' faces, and they're suitably expressive. Newcomer Roohinian carries a lot of heartbreaking confusion and insecurity in his young-but-suddenly-old eyes, and veteran actor Sharafyan imbues his proud, values-strong character with a touching mixture of responsibility and wariness.
"Aram, Aram" is almost too lightweight to have real power, but its snapshot of a vibrant local community and a hollowed-out transplant's very real identity crisis feels genuine.
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes.
Playing: Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino; Pacific Glendale 18.