Director: Terry George
Charlotte Le Bon
Screenwriters: Terry George and Robin Swicord
Runtime: 134 mins.
Australian release date: 15 June 2017
Previewed at: Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 6 June 2017.
In his latest film, The Promise, Irish writer/director Terry George has once again delved into one of the world’s cataclysmic historical events, in keeping with previous efforts Hotel Rwanda and, closer to his roots, In The Name Of The Father. Largely funded by a bequest from US-Armenian businessman (and one-time owner of MGM Studios) Kirk Kerkorian, this epic movie is a long-awaited exposé of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire that began during WWI in April 1915. Genocide? To this day Turkey strongly refutes the charge, stating that there was no deliberate attempt by their forebears to eliminate the Christian Armenians. It claims that the mass deaths were due to war and relocation brought on by the hostilities; only Germany, Italy, France, Russia and Canada openly refer to the appalling treatment of the Armenians as genocide. How strongly The Promise will resonate with contemporary viewers remains to be seen, because we seem to have a regrettable predilection to ignore it when history repeats itself with the annihilation of a country and the obliteration of a people, either because of a lack of conclusive evidence or a lack of compassion. In modern times think of Rwanda or Cambodia.
The script revolves around a romantic triangle between an Armenian medical student, Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an Armenian artist Ana Khesarian (Charlotte le Bon) and her lover, American journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale). Sparks fly when the already engaged Mikael meets Ana at the Istanbul house of his wealthy uncle. The trio’s subsequent intertwined relationships occur in the most difficult circumstances involving arrests, imprisonment, slaughter and displacement as the trial and tribulations of the fleeing Armenians are played out across Turkey.
In addition to the intricate story-telling, The Promise is a visual masterpiece which travels across mountains and countryside of majestic beauty, beautifully captured by Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography and enhanced by a stirring score from Gabriel Yared. Where the film fails is in the love story at the heart of the film - you can feel the writers striving to reach the emotional heights of Lara and Yuri’s passion in Doctor Zhivago but it never quite gets there. The fact The Promise has been given an M rating is curious considering the dire subject matter but George has chosen to imply much of the violence rather that give it to us in close-up and his approach still has a profound effect as events unfold. It could have been very graphic: the well-known human rights QC Geoffrey Robertson, who’s written a book on the subject, said “…the Euphrates actually changed its course as a result of the thousands of dead bodies clogging the narrows." He went on to say that, even though the actions in this film are not entirely in historical sequence, they did indeed happen. Reason enough for the story to be told, if only for the Armenian people to finally have this tragic part of their history brought into the light.