THE PROMISE (2016)
Starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Angela Sarafyan, James Cromwell, Daniel Giménez Cacho, Marwan Kenzari, Tom Hollander, Numan Acar, Rade Serbedzija, Tamer Hassan, Michael Stahl-David, Marwan Kenzari, Kevork Malikyan, Marco Khan and Jean Reno.
Screenplay by Terry George and Robin Swicord.
Directed by Terry George.
Distributed by Open Road Films. 134 minutes. Rated PG-13.
It is rather shocking that over 100 years after the tragedy of the Armenian genocide in Turkey during World War I, The Promise appears to be the first American feature film to tell this horrific story. (There have been a few documentaries and foreign movies that explored it, including Aratat, The Cut and Mayrig.)
At the time of the war, Turkey was half-Turkish and half-Armenian. As the War progressed, the Turkish military rounded up and slaughtered the Armenian people under the guise of relocating them to safer ground. One and a half million people were killed during this siege, a war crime that to this day has never been admitted to, or even acknowledged, by the Turkish government.
It is a horrific and disturbing story that most people do not know. (I personally was only vaguely aware of what happened and had no idea of the scope of the horror.)
However, The Promise begs a question for the filmmakers. Should such a vitally important and horrendous period of history be used as the backdrop for a tragic love triangle?
I will even go so far as to say for director Terry George – who in 2004 took a much more direct and nuanced look at a more recent genocide with Hotel Rwanda – that perhaps it was indeed necessary. As stated before, this is a horribly dark story over a century old that most people will not be completely (or at all) familiar with. A filmmaker probably needs a hook to bring a modern audience to the table in order to impart this vital story. Three imperfect-but-heroic people putting the safety of the people before their own personal needs, finding love amongst the carnage, selflessly fighting the good fight together against a backdrop of Hell – it all can make for a dramatic entrance into the true story of the genocide.
It is just a shame that occasionally the details of the relationship feel a little small here, dwarfed by hideous bloodshed that is swirling around. Like Humphrey Bogart once said in another film about a love triangle set against the backdrop of World War and dreadful atrocities: “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”
And, quite honestly, these three little people are not as interesting as the three little people in Casablanca.
Still, The Promise is mostly a riveting, if rather depressing, film.
Oscar Isaac stars as Mikael Boghosian, a working-class man from an Armenian family. He can’t afford to move to the big city of Constantinople to go to medical school. The only way he could do it, he realizes, was to agree to an arranged marriage with Maral (Angela Sarafyan), a village woman he barely knows, then he could finance his studies with the dowry her family has paid. Then after finishing his schooling, he would move back home, marry Maral and become a local doctor.
You know what they say about the best-laid plans?
Mikael stays with his rich uncle and his family when he arrives in Constantinople. He quickly finds himself attracted to the tutor of his two nieces. Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) is sweet, beautiful, and worldly, having grown up in Paris despite being of Armenian descent. Mikael finds himself thinking of her more and more often, starting to question the promise he made to Maral.
To complicate things further, he meets Ana’s longtime boyfriend Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an American journalist for the Associated Press who is one of the few writers who is reporting about the political unrest and atrocities starting to occur in the country. Mikael picks up on some tension in their relationship, and the fact that Ana seems to also be intrigued in him.
Just as things are coming to a head romantically, the real world intrudes. The situation in the country boils over, and all Armenians are being herded out of Turkey, most of them being slaughtered. Mikael is put on a chain gang but escapes to his home village, where he honors his vow with Maral and gets her pregnant. The two hide in a mountain cabin, but when she becomes ill they have to return to the village. There Mikael reconnects with Ana and Chris. The three try to join together to save the resistance and the innocent people, and the group treks across Turkey with death in their wake.
It is a moving and tragic tale, one that is particularly relevant again in the new political world order.
Honestly, The Promise works a bit better as a war film than as a romance, but it is a strong narrative and a heartbreaking look at history which can repeat itself if we are not all very careful.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2017 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 19, 2017.