Film Review: ‘The Promise’
Special for the Armenian Weekly
Reconstructing the history of a crime, reorganizing the narrative of a tragedy, resetting the scene of a murder, or simply pointing toward a criminal hidden behind the thick layers of the past. Those are some of the roles of a filmic category that one might call the “cinema of remembrance.”
The film “The Promise” fits into this category. It beautifully portrays an epic journey of an Armenian medical student (Mikael) who falls in love in Istanbul with Ana, an Armenian-born woman who in turn was engaged to an American journalist reporting from the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The plot merges the struggle of a threatened community with an intricate love story in the highly tense political context of World War I.
The complex net of stories and genres provoked two distinct results: It gave the film a heavy and necessary emotional charge; but it also blurred the content, fragmented the message, and drowned the real motto of this genre of cinema. The motto being simply the following: “We were killed, and the world has to know this.” Instead, Terry George presents the movie as a history of struggle, of resistance, of a power negotiation between two unequal forces. Terry George transformed the story of a genocide into a history of a war. He implicitly turned the coldblooded murder into a regular conflict between an organized army and a rebellious militia. And by trying to attach a certain heroism to the resisting Armenian community, the movie missed the primary definition of a genocide—that it is not war, but an organized act of systematic murder of an entire community.
A war entails two opponents; a genocide is about a murderer and a victim. A war is a common responsibility; a genocide is one-sided, autistic, blind.
Armenians resisted the Ottoman army’s barbarity, and their heroism is undeniable, but historical accuracy and the narration of a trauma are two different matters. The goal of a cinema of remembrance is not to relate “all what happened” but “all we should remember,”—and, in this case, what to remember is the victimhood of the Armenians and not their resistance, the genocide and not the war. In other words, and to finish, a movie depicting a genocide should have revolved around a “this is what they did” and not a “this is all what happened.”
A movie resuscitating a crime should have more victims than heroes, and “The Promise” was a beautiful epic journey of too many heroes.