Sunday, 7 May 2017

The Promise Film Review

Catching up on film reviews I saw The Promise last week. A fascinating movie directed by Terry George, and highlighting a part of history that was largely unknown.

A visually stunning piece with gorgeous costumes by Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Oscar Isaac plays young Armenian chemist Mikael, betrothed to Maral, the daughter of a wealthy local family. Mikael uses the wedding dowry to study medicine in Constantinople. When staying with his Aunt and Uncle he meets their daughters' governess Ana. Played by the lovely Charlotte Le Bon who would make the ideal Coco Chanel. Ana has returned to Turkey from Paris, with her lover, American reporter Chris Myers, played by Christian Bale

Chris has a reporters eyes and ears, and can see the tension growing in Turkey. With German officers now regularly frequenting soirees. He embarrasses Mikael and Ana by being drunk and insulting guests at one such event held by the father of Emre, one of Mikael's medical school friends. Emre, heroically played by Marwan Kenzari, was given the choice of the army or medical school, and chose medicine. But his father is very keen that he still upholds the honour of his family. 

For centuries the Turkish and their countrymen the Armenians, had lived side by side. But war makes unlikely bedfellows, and Turkey sided with Germany, as we know from Gallipoli. But what we didn't know was that they turned on their Armenian countrymen when war was declared. The Turkish Muslims against the Armenian Christians. And in scenes familiar to those of the German Kristallnacht, Turks attacked the shops and bazaars of their fellow Armenians. As the heat rises in Turkey, Mikael and Ana fall in love.

Rounding up all the men for Ottoman Army military service, Mikael is saved by Emre, using his Father's senior position to give him a medical student exemption. But his Uncle is taken, and using the last of his dowry, Mikael, with the help of Emre, attempts to bribe his Uncle's way out. But Emre's father stops them. Emre is frogmarched into uniform and Mikael finds himself in a prison labor camp. Mikael's Uncle is murdered among with many other Armenian men. 

Finally escaping the camp Mikael makes his way back home, and is married to Maral, even though he tells his mother he fell in love in Constantinople. They are taken to a remote cabin belonging to Maral's parents to sit out the war. Meanwhile Ana and Chris take Mikael's Aunt and two girls to his parents home in Sirun in Southern Turkey. Mikael's mother, played by Shohreh Aghdashloo, tells Ana that Mikael had died. 

Chris and Ana continue onto a Red Cross mission who have an escape route for Armanians, while Mikael and Maral return back home when Maral is ill during her pregnancy. When Mikael finds out Ana and Chris had been there, he also goes to the Mission to ask if they will take his family. At the camp a trusted Turkish official comes to tell the Pastor to try and get as many out as possible, as no Armenians are to be spared. Taking a group of orphans, Ana, Chris and Mikael make their way to the sea to meet up with another Priest to catch the boats, but first stop at Sirun to rescue Mikael's parents and wife. But they find all the villagers have been murdered by the Turks. Only Mikael's injured mother and one of his nieces survived. 

Chris is taken prisoner by a group of the Turkish soldiers who spot him and Mikael, and is returned to Constantinople. Emre tells him he has the option of death, or to renounce everything he has written about the war the Turks are denying. Chris refuses to name his sources or deny the war reports he has filed, but is saved by James Cromwell's US Ambassador. Emre made a call to the US Embassy to advise them that Chris was due to be killed. Chris is deported to Malta and Emre is killed by firing squad when his father finds out he made the call to the Embassy. James Cromwell was particularly good as the no nonsense Ambassador. Chris joins a French battleship captained by Jean Reno in Malta, sent to pick up refugees from the Turkish peninsula.

The refugees, including Ana and Mikael, his mother, niece and the orphans now number many thousand forced up into the mountains. Similar to when the Christan Yazidis were forced out of their homelands and up into the mountains. But help comes with the French ship and they are rescued.  

The Armenian Genocide portrayed was apparently the first recorded. 1.5 million Armenians were murdered during the Turkish massacre we've never heard of. And Turkey has never acknowledged the fact, so I suppose by that reasoning it must be a fiction. And no one with any sense would deny the Jewish Holocaust. I never understood why Hitler persecuted the Jewish people. Whereas I suppose the simple reason the Armenians were slaughtered was they were Christians in a Muslim country. 

The film is a gloriously shot epic. All of the leads were compelling and if the love story within this historic genocide has been criticised it's very sad, as a straight retelling of what happened would be a very sombre story. Here we are motivated to learn more about the events through the eyes of characters who have been affected. 

A very thoughtful film.

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