Vahe Babaian's "After Freedom" (Monday at 7 p.m. and Wednesday at 2 p.m.) is a "Mean Streets" set in the prosperous boulevards of Glendale, which has become home to a large Armenian community. Michael Abcarian (Mic Tomasi) is the conflicted central figure in this taut, well-wrought drama set in a tradition-minded ethnic community in which loyalties can be as negative as they are positive. At 30ish, he feels increasingly obligated to care for his widowed father, Leon (Greg Satamian), who years ago gave up a good job with British Airways in Soviet Armenia so his children could grow up in a free country.
Unfortunately, Leon has managed only to go from one menial job to another, and Michael is getting nowhere as an assistant supermarket manager because one of his pals, Mato (Ioannis Bogris), keeps pilfering. Worse, Michael and Mato are in the thrall of Avo (Shant Benjamin), a cynically manipulative older guy whose criminal impulses are escalating.
Shot in a beautifully modulated black and white by Gary Meek, "After Freedom" is a deeply personal film that is also a mature, assured work rich in telling details and shot through with humor to offset its serious concerns. Tomasi's Michael is a handsome, personable man in a longtime relationship with Sophie Chahinian's lovely, confident Ana. But his deep bonding with his pals and above all his overweening sense of responsibility to his uncomplaining and kindly father could cost him Ana, who recognizes his need to grow up and become independent.
The give and take between all the people in this film is essentially well-meaning, and Babaian has clear affection for everyone, even the hot-headed Avo, who only wants to help his pals get ahead even if it means increasingly involving them in shady deals. As Avo, a man who has missed his big chance and knows it, Benjamin energizes the entire film, which is especially crucial because Michael's predicament, although made sympathetic by Tomasi, is his passivity.
Visually, "After Freedom" offers an unexpectedly lyrical view of Glendale, and Babaian creates a sense of an ethnic community and its tensions between tradition and change without making it seem exotic. Indeed, "After Freedom" is an inviting film in which any audience would be likely to recognize itself.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Adult themes, some violence, language, sensuality and brief nudity
Mic Tomasi...Michael Abcarian
Greg Satamian...Leon Abcarian
A Vitagraph Films release of an After Freedom, L. P. presentation. Writer-director Vahe Babaian. Producers Eric Sherman, Babaian. Executive producers Sophie Chahinian, Berj Benjamin, Ken Craig. Cinematographer Gary Meek. Editors Howard Heard, Tom Ohanian. Music Alan Derian. Art director Amanda Rounsaville. Costumes Elaine Montalvo. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Exclusively at the Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd,. Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and the Glendale Cinemas, 501 N. Orange St., Glendale, (818) 549-9950.