'The Promise' review: Love triangle undoes historical epic

It's a big weekend for films, with new thrillers and even touching animal adventures hitting theaters today.

The Turkish "provocation thesis" blames the Armenian victims for the genocide, asserting that Armenian peasants living in the eastern vilayets (provinces of the empire) had nationalist aspirations and were thus prepared to join the Russian invaders at the beginning of World War I. Further, these Armenians aspired to carve out an independent Armenia in eastern Anatolia, and this, according to the thesis, would spell the demise of Turkey.

The historical drama has received more than 120,000 ratings - almost 62,000 of them the lowest: one-star. It is hard to acknowledge that "The Promise", a love story set during this period is particularly timely, released the week of the annual observance of the annual day of remembrence and the week of a troubling referendum extending the powers of the current leader.

Both the leading actors Christian Bale and Oscar Isaac have proved to be finest actor of their era once again. But what made a lasting impression on me was that in that interview, both Bale and Isaac talked about the shock and sympathy they felt after learning about our story and the pride they felt about starring in the film that told that story.

It's also filled with odd decisions, from casting the Hispanic Isaac as an Armenian, to randomly switching film frame rates, from a classic, natural look, to something as chintzy and cheap as a telenovela in key scenes near the end. I grew up understanding how every year, our President-no matter who may be standing in that position-refuses to acknowledge the Armenian Genocide and refers to it only as "mass-killings". To this day it's so little known, and there's even active denial to it, so that was a big part of it.

The movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last fall, but has only been screened a handful of times since then.

"The Promise" was financed by Armenian-Americans - including Hollywood and Las Vegas magnate Kirk Kerkorian, who died before it was completed - to highlight what the film presents as the murder of 1½ million Armenians by the Turkish government during World War I.

"For me and for the world, to face this, it's not a question of did it happen, or if it happened, the vast majority of historical study has firmly established that this is a planned attempt to wipe out the Armenian nation", George added.

The writer/director piles on the tragedy - which sounds ridiculous, when we're dealing with the genocide of 1.5 million people - and makes the larger atrocities play second fiddle to his characters' personal dramas.

"This is not just about the Armenian Genocide because there's been ... other genocides that have not been recognized", Lianna said. After becoming betrothed to a woman in the village, he takes the dowry and leaves to a two-year medical school so he can become the town's first doctor. "This is a great way to bring this issue back up to the surface and the make sure people know about it". Instead, "The Promise" focuses on a love triangle that trivializes its apparent intention.

"I'm a result of survivors of the Armenian genocide", Sarafyan told reports during TIFF. "That's something important to the Armenian culture".

Canada was among the first countries to recognize the genocide, in 2004. But the films to most capture Armenian persecution have been made outside Hollywood, by global filmmakers like Atom Egoyan (2002's "Ararat") and Fatih Akin (2014's "The Cut").

  • Leroy Wright