Henrik Malian, one of the most popular filmmakers in Soviet Armenia from the 1960s, was born in Telavi (Georgia) on September 30, 1925. After working during his teens as a draftsman at the aviation factory of Tbilisi (1942-1945), he moved to Yerevan. Here he studied at the Institute of Art and Theatre of Yerevan, in the section of direction, from 1945 to 1951. He continued his graduate studies in Moscow, where he finished courses of film and theater direction at the State Institute of Theatrical Art “Anatoli Lunacharsky” in 1953.
Malian’s career started in 1951 as a director in theaters of various towns of Armenia (Artashat, Kirovakan, Ghapan) and on television. In 1954 he entered Armenfilm, the cinema studios, where he was first an assistant director and, since the 1960s, a director. In 1961-1962 he spent a year at the Mosfilm studios, where he studied with two noted Soviet directors, Mikhail Kalatozov (Kalatozishvili) and Sergei Bondarchuk.
Malian’s first films were of a genre that mixed lyricism and comedy, such as The Guys of the Orchestra (1960), Road to the Circus (1963), and Monsieur Jacques and Others (1964). His breakthrough came with The Triangle (1967), one of his best films, which was crucial for the creation of a poetic style in Armenian cinema. The film was endowed with immediacy and a delicate taste for direction, with a powerful artistic discourse. He won the State Award of Armenia in 1975 for this film.
Malian characterized his films by the election of apparently minimal subjects, which he later turned into meaningful, psychologically deep generalizations. The fate of his heroes, their thoughts and experiences were linked to the events of their time. Such was the case of his next works: We Are Our Mountains (1969), Father (1972), and especially Nahapet (1977), which was released in the United States as Life Triumphs. The latter, for which he wrote the screenplay on a short novel by Hrachia Kochar, touched for the first time in Armenia the relatively taboo subject of the Armenian Genocide through the lenses of a survivor and his attempt to rebuild life after the catastrophe.
Malian became People’s Artist of Armenia in 1977 and People’s Artist of the Soviet Union in 1982. He also wrote and directed A Piece of Sky (1980), a reconstruction of life in pre-genocide Kharpert, based on a fragment of Vahan Totoventz’s memoir Life on the Ancient Roman Road . He would still write several films in the 1980s, such as Gikor (1982, based on Hovhannes Tumanian’s short story) and White Dreams (1985, also based on another episode of Totoventz’s memoir), and direct and write A Drop of Honey (1984, also based on a short story by Tumanian). Yearning (1990), the first film to address Stalin’s repression, was posthumously filmed, on a screenplay written by Malian and Ruben Hovsepian (based on another short novel by Hrachia Kochar).
Henrik Malian was not only a director, but also a long-time teacher. He taught at the Khachatur Abovian Pedagogical Institute (now University) from 1971-1988, and was chair of Direction and Master Acting from 1975 on. He was a professor at his alma mater, the Institute of Art and Theater, from 1982 to 1988. In 1980 he founded and directed the Theater-Studio for Film Actors, which was renamed after him in 1988.
He passed away prematurely, at the age of 62, on March 14, 1988, in Yerevan. The Henrik Malian Theater Studio is now directed by his daughter, the actress Narine Malian.