Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Terry George
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale
(PG-13, 134 min.)
Genre: Drama, Romance
“I made a promise. I can’t go back on that, Uncle.” Mikael
Come for the romance. Stay for the history. This sweeping epic recounts the horror of the Armenian genocide of 1915 as it crushes love, ambition, and family ties in a deadly avalanche of ruthless violence.
Three lives intersect in the final years of the Ottoman Empire – Mikael (Oscar Isaac), a young Armenian medical student, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), a fellow Armenian raised in Paris, and Chris (Christian Bale), her American journalist boyfriend.
Mikael first meets Ana at the home of his wealthy uncle in Constantinople where she acts a tutor to his children. She is teaching them how to dance and insists that a breakfasting Mikael join them. The children obviously adore her. Her charm is infectious, her beauty radiant. Mikael is obviously smitten, though he is already betrothed to a young woman from his own village.
Their plans to marry are more of a business arrangement for the young apothecary, Mikael, who cannot afford on his own to obtain a medical degree. Maral’s (Angela Sarafyan) dowry of 400 gold pieces will pay for his schooling. His mother Marta, played by the wonderful Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo who anchored The Stoning of Soraya M, worries that her son does not really love his future wife, but Makael reassures her that they will make a life together. The film derives its title from this promise.
Ana also has her ties. She is involved with Chris, an American journalist who is writing about the unrest there. He pursues his stories relentlessly, and those rather than Ana are where his true passion lies. No wonder it is Mikael that Ana invites to the church to hear a beloved friend of her father sing.
The light filters through the rose window, the darkened altar illuminated by candlelight, and a voice that resonates with ancient mystery and faith. We can almost smell the sweet musk of incense in the hallowed cathedral. Ana and Mikael are drawn to it and each other.
But that peace is shattered on their way back, as Turks destroy and burn the Armenian conclave. The genocide has begun.
Any thoughts of love or loyalty are quickly swept aside by the tide of violence that envelops all. Even their friend, fellow medical student Emre (Marwen Kenzan), son of a powerful Turkish official, tastes its fury. He is ostracized by his father for helping Mikael avoid conscription into service, and then forced to join the military himself by his father.
This war epic with its central love triangle is reminiscent of 1965’s Dr. Zhivago, though somecritics note the romance seems weak here. Perhaps that is because this drama does not give way to the sentimentality of the earlier film. And it is grounded in a sense of honor and loyalty, two traits somewhat lacking in Zhivago and his paramour. Mikael, Ana, and Chris's struggle to do the right thing. Yet even then their choices are thrust upon them more often than not.
Oscar Isaac as Mikael is tremendous here. His eyes speak to us across the screen. He is quickly becoming one of the best young actors out there with an incredible range. He is a handsome, shrewd, and ambitious business man in A Most Violent Year, and almost unrecognizable as the high tech CEO in Ex Machina, with a shaved head, full beard, and very cold eyes behind his steel-framed glasses.
On the other hand, Christian Bale, who amazed us in The Fighter, where he lost 30 pounds to play a coke-ravaged ex boxer, his face almost a death mask, disappoints here. Perhaps it is the script, but he is somewhat wooden, almost as if he’s phoning it in. Perhaps that is one reason the romantic triangle fails to ignite for some critics.
But the real power of this film is that it was made in the first place. The Turks still will not admit to the genocide that reportedly killed 1.5 million Armenians. Now one hundred two years after the facts, The Promise opens the door on secrets hidden and obscured for over a century.
Ignore the tepid response from the critics and listen to the real audience on this one, who awarded it a 96% favorable rating.
A must see for discriminating viewers.
A passionate love triangle simmers in the background while the tragedy of war explodes on the screen. But before the violence of what is now known as the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Turks, the city of Constantinople was a rather cosmopolitan city.
It is there where the medical student Mikael meets Ana and her American boyfriend Chris. Their night on the town is filled with gaiety, laughter, and bit of belly dancing, and quite a bit of drinking.
Let’s help them remember these last few good times with a special Armenian Cocktail made from pomegranates, their national fruit.
Paree akhorzhag !
Tina's Armenian Kiss Martini
Pomegranates are the Armenian national fruit and you could easily say that vodka is an Armenian national pastime. Combine the two together and you have an explosively delicious cocktail, rich in Armenian flavor.
This is a great one not just for the holidays but any festive occasion. –Tina Der Bedrossian
1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice
2 ounces quality vodka
1 ounce cointreau or Triple Sec or Grand Marnier
1 tsp. orange blossom water
1 cup of ice
Garnish with pomegranate arils and citrus peel
Garnish chilled martini glasses with pomegranate arils and a citrus peel. Shake all ingredients in a shaker and pour into garnished glasses.