Spain | USA 2016
Opening August 17, 2017
Directed by: Terry George
Writing credits: Terry George, Robin Swicord
Principal actors: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Angela Sarafyan, Marwan Kenzari
In this drama based in part on historical events, young and idealistic Armenian Mikael Boghosian (Isaac) wants to become a doctor to help the people in his home village of Siroun, in southern Turkey. With no money for study, his mother arranges for his engagement to Maral (Sarafyan), whose father offers a substantial dowry which enables Mikael to attend medical school in Constantinople. Mikael stays with his uncle in the vibrant city, where he meets the lovely Ana Khesarian (Le Bon) who teaches Mikael’s nieces dance. Ana is also Armenian although she was raised in Paris. At a party with his Turkish friend Emre Ogan (Kenzari), Mikael runs into Ana with her boyfriend Chris Myers (Bale). Chris is an American journalist based in Paris who works for the Associated Press. Chris is covering the growing unrest in 1914 as the Ottoman Empire begins to fall,
As the attraction between Mikael and Ana grows, their love story merely gives human context to a very inhumane historical tragedy perpetrated by Ottoman authorities on minority Armenians during World War I. Ottoman authorities labeled Armenians a threat to security and on the night of April 24, 1914, which is often cited as the beginning of Armenian genocide, over two hundred Armenian intellectuals and community leaders were arrested, many of whom were deported or assassinated. This action is portrayed in a scene where Mikael’s uncle is arrested and Emre tries to help get him released. Mikael is sent to a labor camp from which he later escapes to rejoin his family and marry Maral.
As war escalates, the Ottoman authorities attack Armenian villages, slaughtering anyone they find. Mikael tries to get his family out of Siroun, but fails. He joins fleeing Armenians, including Ana, who retreat to the highest nearby mountain. These scenes dramatize the battle of Musa Dagh in 1915, where Armenians, led in part by Movses Der Kalousdian, fought until Allied warships, including the French 3rd squadron in the Mediterranean under command of Louis Dartige du Fournet, came to their rescue. Approximately four thousand, two hundred Armenian children, women and men were evacuated from Musa Dagh and taken to safety.
Facts and fiction are intertwined in this film, as they are indeed in history. The love triangle, though trite, is enhanced by Oscar Isaac’s performance, but it is ultimately just a tactic used to present a part of Armenian history about which there is much controversy. ( )
The feature film titled The Promise is a historical drama set in 1914 around the crumbling of the Ottoman Empire and traces the often overlooked, Armenian Genocide. Armenian-American Kirk Kerkorian (who once owned MGM) financed this film so that this historic atrocity is remembered and brought to light. The film concept had been unsuccessfully pitched to studios for years (at one time Clark Gabel was slated to star in it) and until Kerkorian came forward with his 90-million-dollar budget, no studio would consider making it. Kerkorian’s last wishes (he passed away before the film was completed) were that all film proceeds be donated to nonprofit organizations.
This historical period becomes the backdrop for a fictional love triangle. Mikael Boghosian (Isaac) a young Armenian with a passionate love of medicine is unable to afford to attend medical school and in exchange for medical school expenses becomes engaged to the daughter of a wealthy family in their small village. Once betrothed Mikael heads to Constantinople where he meets Ana Khesarian (Le Bon) and an ill-fated romance starts to unfold.
Ana, an artist and teacher is involved with Chris Myers (Bale) an Associated Press photojournalist. His work has brought them to a city on the brink of war and Chris aggressively pursues capturing images and telling the story of the injustice being delivered by the Turkish government to the Armenian community. Meanwhile the Armenian backgrounds that both Ana and Mikael share is the springboard in which a friendship begins and over time and circumstance a romance blossoms.
The tangled elements of a country at war and a community fighting for survival create tension between Chris and Ana, blurring common sense and their commitments to each other. Meanwhile, Mikael fights for his life as a prisoner who escapes back to his village and marries his betrothed. Circumstances, or is it fate, that bring Ana and Mikael back together as they escape the Turks? Unfortunately with war there is no happy ending.
The production value created by Benjamin Fernandez (production designer) is majestic and thoroughly engaging. Fernandez’s designs capture the horrors of war with authentic historical depiction, thus making the movie a rich viewing experience.