The Promise

THE PROMISE. Starring: Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Charlotte Le Bon, Angela Sarafyan, and Shohreh Aghdashloo. Directed by Terry George. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 133 min.

This English-speaking, Spanish-American movie tells the story of romantic relationships set against the background of terrible events in the outbreak of World War I.

Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac) is an Apothecary working and living in a local Armenian village, and he aspires to become a medical doctor. Mikael "promises" marriage to a local girl, Maral (Angela Sarafyan), and uses a dowry of gold coins given to him by Maral's father to travel to Constantinople to study medicine. He promises his mother, Marta (Shohreh Aghashloo), that he will return, marry, and grow to love his wife.

In Constantinople, he meets a glamorous dance instructor, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), who is the partner of a Journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bake), working for the international Press. Mikael is instantly attracted to Ana, who returns his attention. They share in common their Armenian heritage, and Ana's lover, Chris, becomes jealous of their obvious attraction to each other. Mikael declares his passion to Ana, but tells her too late that he is betrothed to another. Alongside these romantic attachments, however, the film vividly depicts the annihilation of Armenian refugees as they flee from persecution.

The film dramatically shows the genocide of more than one and a half million Armenians at the hands of the Turks in the last days of the Ottoman Empire. The war scenes are savage and brutal, and they dominate the movie. Mikael is captured by the Turks, and sentenced to hard labour, but he escapes internment. Circumstances bring both he and Ana together again, and they join forces with Ana's partner to try to help the refugees escape.

Mikael has returned to his village and married his betrothed at his mother's urging, and he lives to be a devoted husband to Maral, but he cannot forget his affection for Ana who is lost to him, together with Maral, in the tragedy of the war. Multiple trusts are broken in the love triangle that this film depicts, and the events of war change all of the romantic attachments and relationships in a very significant way.

The film is mounted lavishly and has excellent cinematography. There are stunning shots of the Armenian landscape, but it is the pursuit and annihilation of Armenian refugees, driven into the desert, that project the most moving and powerful scenes of the film. The films's images of war tellingly capture the agony of human destruction and loss, as we see the Armenians walking inevitably to their death, many of them murdered in their efforts to escape. Most of the villagers in Mikael's home town are massacred, and all his family are slaughtered.

The acting in the movie is very impressive, particularly that of Oscar Isaac as Mikael, Christian Bale as Chris Myers, Charlotte Le Bon as Ana, and Shohreh Aghdashloo as Mikael's mother, Marta. The film is commandingly directed by Belfast-born writer and Director, Terry George, who gave us "Hotel Rwanda" (2014). Turkey still declines to acknowledge the genocide it conducted.

The film is a moving Ode to the Armenian people. It preserves terrible memories and leaves the viewer with forceful images of the savagery of war. There are individual acts of love and affection among the people caught tragically in the events, and they are depicted touchingly, but the persecution of the Armenian people looms especially large. The film ends with Mikael giving a speech at a wedding reception, urging good fortunes for the generations to come, but the terrible scenes of human loss are hard to expunge from memory. This is a very powerful film that richly deserves to be seen.

Peter W. Sheehan is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Entertainment One Films

Released June 22nd., 2017

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