The Armenian Genocide and the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War form the backdrop for two romances hitting the big screen this spring. Strange. How the hell did that happen? Not that I’m complaining. It is high time that this aspect of the Great War got its due, and movies are the most effective way to spark an interest in any historical period.
The Promise appears to be the “bigger” of the two films, starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon and Christian Bale.
It is 1914. As the Great War looms, the vast Ottoman Empire is crumbling. Constantinople, the once-vibrant multicultural capital on the shores of the Bosphorus, is about to be consumed by chaos. Michael Boghosian (Isaac) arrives in the cosmopolitan hub as a medical student determined to bring modern medicine back to Siroun, his ancestral village in Southern Turkey where Turkish Muslims and Armenian Christians have lived side by side for centuries. Photojournalist Chris Myers (Bale) has come here only partly to cover geo-politics. He is mesmerized by his love for Ana (le Bon), an Armenian artist he has accompanied from Paris after the sudden death of her father.
When Michael meets Ana, their shared Armenian heritage sparks an attraction that explodes into a romantic rivalry between the two men. As the Turks form an alliance with Germany and the Empire turns violently against its own ethnic minorities, their conflicting passions must be deferred while they join forces to survive even as events threaten to overwhelm them.
Predictably, the film is controversial, and early reception to festival screenings has been mixed — as in five-star vs. one-star, which means that people are rating it based on the still-immediate politics of the Armenian Genocide rather on the merits of the film. No element of the Great War remains more fraught.
The film looks lavish and beautiful, and I will track it down, regardless of any distribution problems it encounters due to its sensitive subject matter. It’s set for an April 28 wide release.
The Ottoman Lieutenant looks a bit more soapy and “romantic.” I do not mean that in a pejorative sense. Its trailer also shows a little low-budget in back-to-back comparison with The Promise.
A strong-willed woman, frustrated by ongoing injustice at home, leaves the United States after meeting Jude, an American doctor who runs a remote medical mission within the Ottoman Empire — a world both exotic and dangerous, and on the brink of what is about to become the first World War. There, she finds her loyalty tested to both Jude and the mission’s founder when she falls in love with their perceived enemy, a lieutenant in the Ottoman Imperial Army.
The Ottoman Lieutenant is supposed to hit screens in March.
It, too, is predictably coming under fire, with one outfit dismissing it as a Turkish propaganda film and accusing the film makers of nefarious marketing tactics.
There are clear indications that the The Ottoman Lieutenant (TOL) movie was made by a Turkish production company to repudiate The Promise (TP), financed by Kirk Kerkorian. My assertions below are based on research available on the internet and IMDB.com. Both films tell a love story that takes place during the Ottoman Empire. However, The Ottoman Lieutenant sets the story under the guise of World War I as a means to justify the atrocities suffered by Armenians as a consequence of war, while The Promise sets the story during the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottoman Turks during World War I.
Ain’t no way to portray this history without pissing a whole bunch of people off. As I keep saying, the echo of the Great War is long and loud, even a century on.