Tuesday , October 17 2017

Love triangle undoes ‘The Promise’ – Schwarzenegger to narrate docu ‘Wonders of the Sea 3D’

Angela Sarafyan attends the special screening of ‘The Promise’ at The Paris Theatre on April 18, in New York. (AP)
The Armenian Genocide is a curiously unexplored moment in our modern history, cinematically speaking. That fact alone makes director and co-writer Terry George’s “The Promise” intriguing enough. Historical fiction generally has it over documentaries in inspiring mass interest, especially when actors as appealing as Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon are involved.

And indeed, “The Promise” is a sprawling and handsome epic set around the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. But despite the best of intentions, the film fails to properly explain and contextualize both what led to that disgraceful episode, which Turkey to this day denies, and why it escalated as it did. Instead, “The Promise” chooses to focus in on an unsympathetic love triangle that manages to trivialize the film overall.

The goal, as always, is to personalize the events that are too big and too devastating to look at as a whole — to make it about the lives interrupted, cut short and thrown into turmoil because of external forces. Thus we’re given the character Michael Boghosian (Isaac), an Armenian medical student from a small village in Southern Turkey who uses his fiancée’s dowry to study modern medicine in Constantinople. Michael isn’t in love with his fiancée (Angela Sarafyan), but such is life in Siroun where marriages are arranged and he doesn’t have any other choice. He kisses her goodbye and heads off to the big city, promising to return in just a few years.

Constantinople is an oasis of temptation for Michael, who essentially falls for the first woman he sees. The beguiling Ana (Le Bon) is a cosmopolitan beauty and intellectual. She lived in Paris for years. She exudes ethereal confidence. And she’s an Armenian from around his hometown. Ana also happens to be in a long-term relationship with Chris Myers (Bale), an Associated Press reporter who we’re told drinks too much.

While Michael is enjoying the city life and lusting after Ana, though, things are devolving around him. It’s 1914 and vague signs of war are emerging. Things go on as normal for a little while — there are German soldiers at the parties now and battleships in the harbor and a heightened sense that some Turks are anti-Armenian. And then Constantinople’s Armenian intellectuals start getting arrested and taken away. To where is unclear. To fight? To prison camps? To be executed?

Blurry

The intention, likely, is to put the viewer on the blurry ground level with Michael and Ana, who see their world turned upside down so suddenly that of course there would be confusion. Explanation and insight is hardly a priority when survival is the goal. But that’s where Bale’s Chris Myers should have been more useful.

To the film’s credit, he does take us early on to distant villages to witness townspeople being rounded up and walked through the desert. Women and children are executed without hesitation and, when Chris is spotted in the distance, soldiers take off after him. It’s clear they don’t want people seeing what they’re doing. He chimes in occasionally with helpful exposition as he’s dictating articles, and yet, it’s a wonder whether anyone who knows little about the events will actually be able to track what’s going on in a meaningful way.

“The Promise” is infinitely more interested in the triangle, dropping the three leads into convenient situations to heighten the will they/won’t they/can they/should they drama, which, frankly, becomes increasingly unsympathetic as the situation around them becomes more dire.

It’s unfair to critique such an utterly sincere film that does contain some riveting action and acting and even might inspire some to learn more about this moment in history, but unfortunately, the story just doesn’t live up to its grand ambitions.

“The Promise,” an Open Road Pictures release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality.” Running time: 134 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Also:

LOS ANGELES: Arnold Schwarzenegger has come on board as producer and narrator of the upcoming feature documentary film “’Wonders of the Sea 3D.”

The film is co-directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau and Jean-Jacques Mantello, and produced by Schwarzenegger and Francois Mantello through 3D Entertainment Films. Schwarzenegger is also featured in the opening sequence of the 85-minute documentary, which will be presented and sold by Conquistador Entertainment next month at the Cannes Film Festival.

“Wonders of the Sea 3D” was filmed over three years from Fiji to the Bahamas with Cousteau and his children Celine and Fabien.

Cousteau said, “From the very beginning, my wish was that the narrator of ‘Wonders of the Sea 3D’ be profoundly connected to the environment, and we could not have better fulfilled that mission. Arnold and I share the same enthusiasm about what should be done to protect the ocean. I was impressed by his professionalism and how dedicated he proved to endow the film with his voice.”

Cousteau is the son of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau and has investigated the world’s oceans aboard “Calypso” and “Alcyone” for much of his life. He has made over 80 films and received an Emmy, the Peabody Award, the Sept d’Or, and a Cable Ace Award. He founded Ocean Futures Society in 1999. (Agencies)

“I am delighted to be narrating the first feature documentary directed by Jean-Michel Cousteau, a man that I have admired for years,” said Schwarzenegger. “He was an absolute jewel to work with and I love his enthusiasm. When I first saw the footage of this film, I was blown away and I immediately wanted to be involved.” (Agencies)

By Lindsey Bahr

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