Political Film Review #540

The Armenian genocide has never been so vividly depicted as in The Promise, directed by Terry George, winner of a Political Film Society award for best film on human rights of 2004 for Hotel Rwanda. The film focuses on Mikael Boghosian (played by Oscar Isaac), son of a pharmacist in a small Armenian village in southern Turkey (though filming is mostly in Portugal and Spain). He is betrothed to someone he does not love, but promises to do so and takes the dowry to Istanbul in 1914 to become a physician, staying at the palatial home of an uncle, whose daughter Ana Khesarian (Charlotte Le Bon) is dating an American journalist, Christian Myers (Christian Bale). But Mikael is also attracted to her, so a love triangle soon forms. After scenes showing how they enjoy life in Istanbul, Turkey becomes an ally of Germany in World War I. Then in 1915, arrests, executions, and Armenians fearing their fate fill the screen for more than an hour, though the Ottoman government does not explain why peaceful Armenians are suddenly considered traitors. While the government claims to be evacuating Armenians from Turkey, soldiers are in a hurry to get rid of them quickly, massacring them wherever they can. Myers reports for Associated Press and is nearly executed as an American spy, released with pressure from American ambassador Morgenthau (James Cromwell), and goes to Malta, where he urges the captain of a French warship to rescue Armenian orphans from a Red Cross settlement in southern Turkey who are being aided by Mikael. The climax demonstrates much heroism. Titles at the end provide some details of the fate of Armenians, who consider (despite continual denials by Turkey) the death of about 1.5 million persons to be genocide, a term invented after World War II. Although The Ottoman Lieutenant, released earlier this year, presented the Turkish side of the story, the Political Film Society has nominated The Promise as best film on human rights and peace for 2017. MH