Because Why (1993): Canadian Arto Paragamian’s Directorial Debut

Toronto Film Festival 1993–Because Why, Arto Paragamian’s directorial feature debut, is an offbeat romantic comedy starring Michael Riley, who is rapidly becoming Canada’s best-known actors.

Intermittently entertaining, pic’s deadpan, sophisticated humor is of the Jim Jarmusch-Aki Kaurismaki’s school. Centering on a twentysomething triangle, comedy’s urban locale and contemporary feel for modern relationships should appeal to young, hip viewers.

Versatile actor Michael Riley plays Alex, a wanderer who returns to Montreal only to find out that his best friend Arto (Doru Bandol) is about to depart for Cairo. This is only the first in a series of disappointments, which include running into his ex-girlfriend in a supermarket and realizing she has married and settled down. Riley seems to “specialize” in complex romantic entanglements: an affair with Alya (Martine Rochon), his best friend’s lover, and then a romance with neighbor Anne (Heather Mathieson), an attractive single mother with two kids.

The apartment building Riley moves into is populated by eccentric characters, beginning with his landlord. Nonetheless, the random aggregate of tenants gradually becomes a meaningful social unit, a commune of people who really like–and help–each other in their various crises.

Because Why boasts an exhilarating beginning and some funny, unexpected turns. But it’s burdened with repetitive set pieces, such as a landlord always seen in the same position, as he’s about to install a smoke detector in his building. Comedy also suffers from overly deliberate pacing and self-conscious, often cutesy humor; all the characters’ names, for example, begin with an A.

Yet, as scripter and helmer, Paragamian demonstrates humanistic vision in the way he depicts the emotional bonds among his disparate characters (which also include an elderly gay couple) and their function as a substitute family. Pic’s central piece, a lovely picnic in the woods, reflects the kind of communal ties that rarely exist–and seldom depicted–in American urban comedies.

Holding the entire film together, the enormously talented Michael Riley excels as a classic comedy clown, a man who doesn’t really know what he wants of his life and yet everybody falls in love with. Riley is ably supported by an ensemble of half a dozen fetching performers.

Production values are proficient, particularly Andre Turpin’s handsome lensing of Montreal and Nana Vasconcelos romantic and melancholy score.


An Aska Film production in association with Cinoque Films. Produced by Claude Gagnon, Yuri Yoshimura-Gagnon, Francois Pouliot. Directed, written by Arto Paragamian. Camera (color), Andre Turpin; editor, Christine Denault; music, Nana Vasconcelos; art Patricia Christie; sound, Yvon Benoit; casting, Jocelyne Trudeau. Reviewed at the Toronto Festival of Festivals, Sept. 11, 1993. Running time: 104 min.


Alex…….Michael Riley
Arto………Doru Bandol
Alya……Martine Rochon
Anne…Heather Mathieson
Albert…..Victor Knight
Andre………..Hank Hum