The Promise (2016)

The Promise
Director: Terry George
Writer: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Cast: Oscar IsaacCharlotte Le BonChristian BaleDaniel Giménez CachoShohreh AghdashlooMarwan KenzariAngela SarafyanTom HollanderJean Reno
Seen on: 22.8.2017

Mikael (Oscar Isaac) wants nothing more than to become a doctor. So he travels to Constantinople, where he can stay with his uncle, and starts studying. Also staying with his uncle is the beautiful Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a French dance instructor who teaches Mikael’s nieces. Mikael and Ana hit it off, but Ana is already dating American journalist Chris (Christian Bale). The love triangle that ensues is interrupted, though, when the political situation in the Ottoman Empire shifts, war is declared and Mikael, as an Armenian, finds himself in grave peril.

The Promise tells an important story, but unfortunately it doesn’t tell it particularly well, making it feel way too long and less engaging and devastating than it should have been.

The story of the Armenian genocide is one that is pretty unknown and has barely been dealt with, so the fact that the film tackles it, really is important. Unfortunately – and probably because it is talked about so little – the film tries to cram everything that ever happened into Mikael’s story. That means that he really stumbles from one catastrophe to the next and has pretty much everything happen to him.

That makes the film feel about 5 million years long and whenever misfortune (to put it lightly) strikes again to make his life even worse, it becomes harder and harder to empathize with Mikael as the annoyance with the film grows.

While the acting was good and I very much like Oscar Isaac, I kept wondering if they couldn’t find an actual Armenian to play the part (at least as far as I know, Isaac doesn’t have Armenian roots). That casting renders the final point of the film – no matter how hard they tried to kill them all, Armenians are still here – a little absurd. It also means that the film resorts to English dialogues, but spoke with an Armenian accent, which I very much hated – accented English makes no sense in this context. Either shoot in Armenian or pretend the English is Armenian – and then native speakers speak without accent.

In the end the film remains too conventional to be really effective, which is unfortunate as we could do with more information about the atrocities committed and film is such a good medium to make the horror felt.

Summarizing: if you’ve never heard of the Armenian genocide, it’s a good starting point, but it’s not really a great film.

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