Friday, April 18, 2014

Movie with Abe: A Promise

A Promise
Directed by Patrice Leconte
Released April 18, 2014

Forbidden romance is a popular subject for movies. In many cases, such stories are set in the past, where certain cultural and societal tendencies make the circumstances of such an impossible union all the more dramatic. “A Promise” is a textbook case of two people destined not to be together despite their strong feelings for each other. Based on the novella “Journey into the Past,” published three decades after author Stefan Zweig’s death, this is an old-fashioned, extremely familiar story of love and longing.

“A Promise” begins with bright, hard-working young Friedrich Zietz (Richard Madden) accepting a job working for the wealthy and respected owner of a steel factory, Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman), in 1912 Germany. Karl quickly promotes Friedrich to be his private secretary, and, before long, Friedrich is asked to live in Karl’s home to be able to fulfill his duties to the greatest possible degree. Turning his back on a far less important but equally forbidden fling, Richard soon meets Karl’s wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall), a much younger woman with energy and a passion for life. World War I breaks out, and events conspire to keep their inevitable love from being spoken or truly progressing, yet it is clear that both hold their feelings for one another close to their hearts.

There is little to this film and its plot that feels original, and the details of its setting – the early 1900s, Germany, a factory – do little to distinguish it from other similar movies. Its story takes place mostly indoors and involves just the three main players, and, as a result, there are few visual or technical opportunities for the film to use the time period or its surroundings to stand out. When it does venture outside, there’s a glimpse of the universe that exists apart from just these characters, and a sense of what a fuller film could have looked like had it not been so isolated on its three primary personalities.

The idea of spending so much time getting to know Friedrich, Karl, and Lotte is to demonstrate that the way that Karl and Friedrich felt about each other overwhelmed anything else that was going in their world. Madden, familiar to most for his role as Robb Stark on “Game of Thrones,” is muted and relatively shy, allowing his expressions and his imagination to tell of Friedrich’s longing for Lotte. Hall, whose career took off a few years ago, is better suited to dry comedic roles that allow her to do more than simply pine for two different men. Rickman is hardly putting in his best efforts, though it’s not as if the part asks much of him. This love triangle doesn’t feel like it’s alive, trapped instead in the past. Its story has its emotional points, but they don’t add up to a moving or memorable whole.


No comments: