The Promise (II) (2016)
A powerful and excellent film of the Armenian genocide in Turkey
7 October 2017
This film, though containing fictionalised love stories, is otherwise based on true events, and takes much of its inspiration from the famous best-selling novel by Franz Werfel, published in 1933 as DIE VIERZIG TAGE DES MUSA DAGH, and in 1934 as THE FORTY DAYS OF MUSA DAGH. I have a copy signed by the author to his friend Hans Koerner (along with a copy of THE SONG OF BERNADETTE also signed by him). Koerner gave these to me just before his death because of my love of Werfel's writings. In reality, the defiance of the Turkish troops by five thousand Armenians on Musa Dagh mountain lasted for 52 days, though in this film it lasts for only a few days. The rescue of 4000 Armenians, many of them orphans, by a French naval ship shown in the film is based on the real rescue by several French naval ships in 1915. Werfel's novel was filmed in 1982. An attempt to film it in 1934 was prevented by pressure applied by the Turkish Government to the US State Department. Two subsequent attempts to film the novel were also prevented by Turkish pressure. The Turkish Government has always denied that the genocide of the Armenians took place, although everyone outside of Turkey who takes an interest in such things knows very well that one and a half million Armenians were brutally massacred by the Turks, men, women, and children, in cold blood. Werfel says in the introduction to his lengthy and complex novel (823 pages): 'This book was conceived in March of 1929, in the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of some maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch from the Hades of all that was, this incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian nation. The writing of the book followed between July 1932 and March 1933.' The American religious mission in the book is at Marash, and its head was the Rev. E. C. Woodley. What the novel really requires is a television series. Of course, Turkey will not permit its locations to be used, and THE PROMISE was filmed in Portugal, Spain, Malta, with a few scenes in America. The executive producer of this film was the famous billionaire film moghul and former Chairman of MGM, Kirk Kerkorian, an Armenian (1917-2015), who alas died before the film was released, aged 98. When Werfel's novel came out, Kerkorian was working as a manual labourer at MGM, a studio which he later bought and owned. Moving words by the author William Saroyan (Armenian-American) are quoted in the end titles of this film. I am glad to say that his daughter Lucy and I were close friends for a few brief months when we were young. She died much too young in 2003. Her first film role was uncredited in Karel Reisz's film ISADORA (1968), because Karel's step-daughter Kerry Kelly was her best friend and she was then (at the time I knew her) at their house nearly every day. Lucy's god-father was Marlon Brando, which became a good joke when he later actually became THE godfather. It should be remembered that not only the Armenians but also the Greeks were massacred by the Turks at this time. One of the most emotional films you could ever see deals with a Greek refugee boy from Turkey, modelled on the grandfather of Elia Kazan, who made the film: America America (1963, see my review; I slightly knew the actor who played the boy in that film). THE PROMISE briefly shows the visiting German military men who negotiated Turkey's entry into World War One on their side. It was the Kaiser's policy, based on an idea going back to the 1890s, that German interests could be served by whipping up Muslim hatred for infidels (all except for Germans, of course), and their massacre. Hitler did not originate this policy but inherited it. It was entirely under German influence that anti-Semitism took root in the Middle East, and the genocide of the Armenians inspired Hitler to commit genocide on the Jews, saying: 'Who remembers the massacre of the Armenians?' I am proud to say that my grandmother was a relentless campaigner for years for the Armenians and raised a great deal of money for the refugees during and after World War One. This film is excellently made, the direction by Terry George is superb. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Robin Swicord, and the script really is excellent. She has written many distinguished screenplays. As for Terry George, he was previously best known for writing and directing HOTEL RWANDA (2004), another powerful expose of massacre and injustice. He clearly has a social conscience worthy of an Oscar. The performances in this heart-rending story are very good indeed, with the lead young man, Mikael, played by Oscar Isaac with strength and conviction. Christian Bale once again masters the American accent to contribute a top rank performance as the American journalist who is trying to expose the genocide in the world press. The French-Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon does not look particularly Armenian, as she should have done, but she delivers a sensitive and moving performance as Ana. Angela Sarafyan, on the other hand, who plays Maral, was born in Armenia and certainly looks it. When we see closeups of her face, we are looking at the real thing. She is now a successful American actress who has appeared in 60 films. Jean Reno appears briefly as the French admiral who saves the refugees on the beach. Tom Hollander appears as a former clown who has been imprisoned on a work gang by the Turks. This film deserves to be shown in every school all over the world, so that the truth can be known. Why should the Turks be allowed to get away any longer with hiding their dirty big secret?
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