THE PROMISE – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Directed by Terry George
Written By Terry George, Robin Swicord
Selig Rating A
Running time 132 min
Wide release is April 21st 2017
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Marwan Kenzari
“The Promise” is a beautifully shot, respectfully directed, expertly acted, slow paced, and heart-wrenching film. Wow, that's a really long sentence! I went into screening this film not knowing a lot about it other than the fact that it's billed as a love triangle in Constantinople around 1915 at the end of the Ottoman Empire. After all, who doesn't like a good love story, right? Well don’t think this is a light date movie because it ain't.
The movie trailer boasts that it’s “Based on a true story,” which of course means that it can be based on anything from loosely inspired by a family legend to a movie so faithful to history, it’s basically a documentary. This film is somewhere in the middle. Think along the lines of the movie Titanic.
The Promise is based on a true story, in the events that shape its narrative, i.e. the Ottoman Empire systematically persecuting and killing Armenians, really did happen. The film bravely tackles the true story of the Armenian genocide, a story rarely seen on film. However, the romantic triangle: aspiring Armenian doctor Mikael (Oscar Isaac) who falls in love with a French raised Armenian woman named Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) who is already in a relationship with AP journalist Chris(Christian Bale). As the three develop a complicated friendship, the Armenian genocide begins. This love story in The Promise came completely from the minds of the screenwriters. Mikael, Ana and Chris are fiction. The war and the genocide in the film, unfortunately, were very real.
In The Promise, Mikeal starts out in a small Armenian village on the eastern part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire where he promises himself to a rich village woman to get 400 gold coins as a dowry. This allows him to travel to Constantinople to study to become a medical student. His plan is it to become a doctor and go back to his village with all his new skills and set up shop. At school he becomes fast friends with the Turkish spoiled son of a powerful general. While he’s studying he lives with his Uncle’s family and this is how he meets Ana and her boyfriend Chris, the American reporter. All is going well, and despite being betrothed to someone back home Mikeal can’t help but fall in love with Ana. She is torn between her long relationship and love affair with Chris and her new feelings for Mikeal. As this is going on the Ottoman Empire begins to round up Armenians, initiating the Armenian Genocide in 1915 as World War 1 is underway.
Mikeal with the help of his Turkish medical school friend manages to avoid being drafted. He thinks he can ride out the war in medical school but when his Uncle's shop is burned to the ground and he’s arrested, Mikeal and his Turkish friend try to bribe the guards with what’s left of his 400 gold coins to get his uncle out of jail. It does not work, Mikeal instead is send to a labor camp and his friend is sent into the Turkish army by his father to become a man.
The rest of the film is what really hit me hard. I had no idea that a lot of the atrocities that the Jewish people endured at the hands of the Nazis were perpetrated against the Armenian people at the hands of the Turks. This film is a real eye opener, along the likes of films such as Schindler's list and Bridge on the River Kwai. Both deal with the battle of the human spirit against the evil that mankind is capable of
The film uses Mikeals’ journey out of captivity, back to his hometown, and his fleeing to the mountains with the refugees from his home and surrounding cities to show what the Armenians endured. It all comes to a head in the mountains on the coast where the refugees fight off the Turkish army until they’re rescued by the French Navy, who sees the women and children being fired upon
With such a heavy topic you’d think this film is just a downer but you would be wrong. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a heart you will be bawling at the end of this film. However, the coda to the film based on the wedding of one of the survivors and a toast to the fact that the best revenge is to survive, live to bear witness and to go on to live the best life you can. So the ending is one of hope and not hopelessness.
Go see The Promise, then hug someone you love and let them know how important they are to you.