Love And Mass Murder: The New Movie, “The Promise”

The Promise (2017), by Terry George, is a film about love and mass murder in the Ottoman Empire in 1914.  An Armenian medical student, Michael (Oscar Isaac), is engaged to be married but drifts into an easy love for another man’s sweetheart, Ana (Charlotte Le Bon), also Armenian.  That these two are Armenian inescapably makes them targets for a stronger power—the Turks—who start destroying those of this particular ethnic group.

The movie is often beautiful and always transporting, a big-screen treat.  (I have no desire to see it on the small screen.)  But it is not the cinematic epic Hollywood should have given us, except for its dealing with the Armenian genocide.  Director George and Robin Swicord have penned a highly predictable and often trite screenplay.  Trite: after Michael and Ana make love one night, the film cuts to Michael still in bed, looking at a fully dressed Ana as she dutifully puts up her hair. . . Also, there is nonsense.  An Armenian captive prefers having a bullet lodged under his facial skin to its being taken out.  (Hey, it isn’t fatal yet.)  And why do the Turks permit the Armenians to carry crates of explosives when the Turks themselves are at risk?

After reading Read’s Scarpia, I am dumbfounded by how inadequate a period piece The Promise is.  I don’t regret, even so, seeing it in a theatre, and you may not either.  How disappointment can be kept at bay, though, I do not know.


Cinderella Fella

Cover of "Cinderella Man [HD DVD]"

Cover of Cinderella Man [HD DVD]

Directed by Ron Howard, Cinderella Man (2005) serves up so much caricature and obviousness it’s almost as dispiriting as Howard’s A Beautiful Mind.

On the caricature side, in this chronicle of the early-adult life of boxer James Braddock (Russell Crowe), there is 1) a repulsive Max Baer and 2) a dismal fat cat who revokes Braddock’s license to box after Braddock fails to put on a good show.  Then there’s Braddock’s wife Mae (Rene Zellweger), more a cliché than a caricature; she dislikes her husband’s profession, his being “a punching bag.”  She visits Braddock’s manager to protest.  Gad!

Cinderella Man is watchable, though, because it’s captivatingly honest enough about poverty, and the boxing scenes are exciting, supplely executed, and perfectly edited.  The poverty is that of the Great Depression, during which Braddock makes very little money since he is unable to fight.  But a second ascent for this nice Catholic man finally begins.  Howard’s film doesn’t stick in the gray matter, but it is inspirational.  And far superior to A Beautiful Mind.

A Man Of Valor In 18th Century Italy: The Novel, “Scarpia”

An historical figure named Vitellio Scarpia, who lived in the 18th century, was turned into a “sadistic agent”—the words of English novelist Piers Paul Read—in a play by one Victorien Sardou.  The plot of this play was borrowed by Puccini for his opera Tosca, and now, in his lively novel Scarpia (2015), Mr. Read has rescued Scarpia from Sardou’s calumny.    He, not Floria Tosca, is the main character here, and instead of a brute, he is a humane, dutiful baron and skillful swordsman for the Papal States.

The lionized opera singer, Tosca, is here, to be sure; and she’s important.  For one thing, after all, she is one of the women with whom Scarpia fornicates.  In Catholic Italy.  What the novel points up is that in European history numerous people grasped with one hand Catholicism and with the other hand sexual pleasure.  The major characters here are nominal Catholics—or nominal Christians—exhibiting erotic faithlessness as frequently as they fall in love.  Scarpia does this, with Tosca, after becoming a cuckold.  The cuckold is still married to Paola, a Roman princess.

I believe that what Scarpia is about, besides an author’s effort to help a libeled person, is damnation in life (not after death) and, in contrast, salvation.  Damnation in life means coming to a tragic end, a terrible end, after one has sinned.  Humane he may be, but Scarpia is also responsible for an act of cruel deceit toward Tosca.  It is Paola, the only woman Scarpia marries, who confesses and repents her way to the aforementioned salvation.  This she does after being the Arletty of Rome and sleeping with French Jacobins who invade Italy with Napoleon.  Meant, I think, to be a sincere convert, Paola is one of the few characters in the book who give rise to an affirmative element.

Read writes well about political actors, and still writes enjoyably about relationships between men and women.  And, all in all, to the relationship between God and man he has not given short shrift, as most other writers must do.  He has an understanding of it.

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