Sunday, 27 August 2017

The Promise (4½ Stars)

This is a film that takes place in the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) at the beginning of the First World War, from 1914 to 1915. We see the country as a place of beauty, peace and prosperity, especially Istanbul.

Mikael Boghosian, a young Armenian apothecary from Sirun, in the far south east of the empire, goes to Istanbul to study medicine. He lives with his uncle, a rich merchant. At university he makes friends with Emre, the son of a high ranking Turkish official. Emre has no talent as a student and will almost certainly fail to graduate, but his father has told him that if he doesn't study he will have to join the army.

Mikael's uncle has a private teacher for his children, Ana, an Armenian who has spent many years in France. Mikael falls in love with her, even though he's already engaged to Maral, a woman in his village. Ana already has a lover, Chris Myers, an American journalist, but this doesn't dissuade Mikael from pursuing Ana. At this point I already hated him.

Then the problems start. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire declared a holy war against the Christians in his country. This began on 24th April 1915. The able-bodied Armenian men in Istanbul were conscripted into the army. For their so-called military service they were sent to work camps where they were treated like slaves. Men who were too old to work were shot. Women and children were sent on marches into the desert, where they were left to survive without food and water.

After Istanbul was cleansed of Armenians, the army moved eastwards, killing Armenians wherever they were found. There were long columns of refugees fleeing from the army who didn't know where they were going. Sometimes refugees from the East met refugees from the West, and the refugee groups told each other there was no point in continuing in their direction.

Mikael escapes from his labour camp and manages to walk back to Sirun. He's persuaded to marry Maral. Together they live in a hut in the mountains, but the army comes and they have to flee.

In the meantime Chris and Ana are at a Protestant orphanage caring for Armenian children whose parents have been killed. They have plans to take the children to the coast, where boats will be waiting to evacuate them. Before they get there the army has destroyed the boats. All Armenians must die.

I admit to knowing very little about the Armenian genocide, except that 1.5 million Armenians were killed. The film shows the sheer brutality of it. It wasn't just the army that did the killing. An evil government persuaded its population that it was their duty to Allah to kill Christians. They had probably been racists for years, but as soon as the government said it was okay to kill Armenians they rushed into the streets with their torches and fancy headgear. Isn't it remarkable how racists look the same, whatever country they come from, whatever their religion is?

Not all Turks are bad. Emre uses his father's influence to assist Mikael and Chris on more than one occasion, but when it's discovered he's executed as a traitor.

The film shows that the Turks were very sloppy with their genocide. The Germans were efficient in World War Two. The Jews were sent to camps, they were killed in the showers, and their bodies were burnt in ovens. All very clean and tidy. The Turks simply shot the Armenians and left their bodies piled up on the road or in the woods. They didn't even attempt to bury them. Didn't they consider that the rotting corpses could start diseases?

After watching the film tonight I read the Wikipedia article on the Armenian genocide. It was depressing. It was even worse than what was shown in the film.

Notably, the Turkish government still denies that the Armenian genocide ever happened. President Recep Little Prick Erdogan is too busy killing his present day opponents to listen to allegations that his predecessors committed mass murder.

I enjoyed the film as a presentation of the Armenian genocide, but I couldn't relate to the love triangle (actually a love square, if you include Marla). I disapproved of Mikael being unfaithful to his fiancée, and Chris wasn't a very pleasant person either. At least they were both heroic in trying to save the Armenian orphans when they finally met again.

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