By Christian Manoukian
It’s the year 1914.
World War I has just begun, and as bullets and cannon shells fly across the blood-soaked fields and trenches of Europe, a quiet, unnoticed genocide is being brutally carried out across Turkey by the Ottoman Empire in an effort to exterminate the Armenian race once and for all.
It is in these uncertain times that “The Promise” takes place.
Michael Boghozian, played by Oscar Isaac, is an aspiring Armenian medical student from the small village of Siroum in southern Turkey whose ultimate dream is to attend medical school in Constantinople and become a doctor.
After receiving a generous dowry from the family of his innocent betrothed wife, Maral, Michael uses the money to travel to the capital to fulfill his dream.
Once in Constantinople, Michael meets the elegant and sophisticated Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon), a dance teacher and tutor to Michael’s cousins, and her significant other, renowned war journalist Chris Myers (Christian Bale).
This sets up the heartfelt love triangle that the three main characters are forced to confront at different times throughout the movie.
Michael’s competing desires to protect his family in Siroum and the Armenian population at large, staying faithful to his betrothed Maral and nurturing his growing love for Ana lead him to some drastic decisions that place him and those he loves in the center of Ottoman Turkey’s vicious program of genocide to exterminate its Armenian minority.
“The Promise” was funded by Armenian billionaire businessman Kirk Kerkorian for a reported budget of more than $100 million, and that extra injection of cash goes a long way in lending the film an air of true authenticity.
Viewers are treated to absolutely breathtaking scenes of Ottoman-era Constantinople, complete with the bright, energetic colors of the Mediterranean set against the backdrop of soaring mosque minarets and the azure blue glitter of the Bosphorus.
The costume design and character casting also help make the film feel far more like you’re paging through an unearthed photo album from the height of the Ottoman Empire rather than a garish and gaudy Hollywood mockup.
Director Terry George spends little time trying to explain the histories of the ethnic groups embroiled in the conflict, and this feels like a win for the audience.
I did not feel like I was given a history lesson about Armenians or Turks, which was fantastic because that time was spent fleshing out the main characters as individuals.
The film also did well not to pander too much to an Armenian audience who desperately wanted all Turks to be portrayed as heartless murderers to justify their anger.
Viewers do not at any time feel the need or have the desire to be against the Turkish people.
This is well highlighted by the warm friendship between Michael and his Turkish friend, Emre Ogan.
Even though Emre is stuck between a rock and a hard place with his dual obligations to the Ottoman government and his Armenian friends, you see him come through for his friends and stay loyal; even at the expense of his own life.
Make no mistake; “The Promise” is not a sad movie with an ultimately happy ending. It’s bittersweet, at best.
To this day (as noted at the end of the film), the Turkish government denies a campaign of genocide against Armenians ever occurred.
There has been no justice served for the estimated million and a half men, women and children who had their lives savagely and mercilessly snuffed out like a candle.
Families were torn apart.
Armenians had their land stripped from their hands.
Family heirlooms, papers, love letters and photos were burned.
Their businesses were destroyed and their history buried.
As Ana says to Michael, “Our revenge will be to survive.”
“The Promise” is throat-tightening, a heart-wrenching and deeply moving epic about what happens when a people refuses to bow to the forces of evil that threaten to wipe them off the face of the Earth.
With courage, grace and humility, “The Promise” sheds light on the tragedy of the Armenian people and beautifully celebrates their great triumph of continuing to exist and thrive, against all odds.
Courtesy of Open Road Films
‘The Promise’ poster
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