Keep the Promise



Keep the Promise

The movie critic Vahagn Tevosyan’s review of “The Promise”, a historical epic starring Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and Charlotte Le Bon. The movie, directed by Oscar-winner Terry George (director of “Hotel Rwanda”), was released on the eve of the 102nd anniversary of the Armenian Genocide to a lot of hype and mixed reviews.

Text : Vahagn Tevosyan

It’s a bit of a challenge for every Armenian to be objective on anything (in this case a movie), which has some relation to the Armenian Genocide. And it’s also hard to expect an objective perspective from Turkish society. For Armenians and many other countries, the events of the early 20th century were undoubtedly characterized by Genocide, but for Turkey and a few Islamic countries – there is no association with Genocide. And we should accept it by default before watching “The Promise”.

Anyone who understands films more or less, would admit that “The Promise” is a usual movie. It’s not a masterpiece, but also not rubbish. It’s less about Genocide, than the “Titanic” is about the sinking of the RMS Titanic, and more about a love triangle, than the “Titanic” was. And we could’ve discussed the artistic merit of the movie, its cultural significance, etc, if there wasn’t so much noise surrounding the movie, even when the movie was in the early stages of filming. Even when no one had seen the movie, Armenians began to promote it on the Armenian Genocide platforms, the Turks, on the other hand, began an unprecedented campaign on the IMDB website, purposefully giving the film the lowest rating.  As a result, “The Promise”, unfortunately, gradually turned into a thing rather than a movie, making it hard to judge objectively.

Although the main topic of the movie is not Genocide (also, in my humble opinion the Holocaust is not the primary focus of the films "Schindler's List" and "La vita è bella"), but the plot of the movie is constructed in a way that any event depicted and any dialogue in the film is somehow dealing with the topic of Genocide. This is a good example of screenplay solution. The thing is, you can’t find scenes of bloody massacres in the movie, but nonetheless you have the main topic before your eyes during every second of the movie, even in the very short dialogue between two doctors, when one of them, using their internal terminology, refers to Armenians as a “cancer” of the Ottoman Empire. However, there are also “good Turks” depicted in the movie. A senior official, for example, gives information to an American journalist, which then provides a clearer picture about the massacres, or a young student, who risks his life trying to save his Armenian friend. Such kind of references in Taviani’s "The Lark Farm" are quite normal, but in the present day, where vehement denialism of the Armenian Genocide is still a reality, and the fact that the movie is financed by Armenians (more precisely, by billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who passed away before the movie was completed), this is quite remarkable and unprecedented. Generally, the film is some kind of a “thank you” and tribute to those who helped Armenians during the Genocide: US Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, the American journalist, performing faithfully his duty, and the French navy, which helped Armenians during the Musaler self-defense.

I purposefully avoid talking about the plot in details, but I strongly advise anyone to watch the movie. You might be bored at some points, or you may feel the absence of suspense, but the movie will have a profound impact with its humanitarian nature and its emotional atmosphere of pain and loss. Any ambitious blockbuster would look at the cast list with envy  - Oscar winner Christian Bale, Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac, Oscar nominees James Cromwell and the charming Shohreh Aghdashloo, TV-show stars Angela Sarafyan, Charlotte Le Bon, Tom Hollander and even Jean Reno who plays a French Admiral. This energy, created by a stellar cast, along with devoted work from the famous screenwriter Robin Swicord and Oscar-winning director Terry George, firmly puts “The Promise” on the “must watch” movie list.