What a pity! This could have been a good film, but somehow it didn't happen. The acting was wooden and there was no chemistry between any of the actors. The story was very slow moving (which I usually don't mind) with little subtext. The film also lacked subtlety. None of the characters motivations are believable or particularly clear. We watched it to the end, but were disappointed. Not recommended.
I had been eagerly awaiting this film's release for over two years, seeing as it was to star my favourite actor, Alan Rickman, and knowing that my collection of his films wouldn't be complete without it. However, it was never on general release nationwide in the UK (instead showing at a few very select venues for the shortest of time I believe). Its transfer to DVD came soon after though, almost as if the powers that be were expecting it to prove a rather insignificant event ... And, dare I say, they clearly knew best! For although this film appears to have all the necessary ingredients for the "haunting, intense, sensual film" it claims to be, somewhere along in the mix it seems that something went tragically wrong and the magic that should have been just wasn't there.
I have read a few reviews where it's been said that Alan Rickman was the 'saving grace' of the film and, as an avid fan I suppose I should be agreeing with that, but unfortunately I'm afraid I can't. From the very beginning I felt that those involved didn't seem to be committing their hearts and souls to the enterprise, and all three of the main cast - Alan Rickman, Rebecca Hall and Richard Madden - were clearly trying to out do each other for the award of 'Most Wooden/Disinterested Actor'. Of the three, I think Richard Madden was probably the best (or should I say furthest away from winning said award), with Maggie Steed as Karl Hoffmeister's (Alan Rickman) factory secretary probably being extremely under used. (She's always so very good in anything I've ever seen her in). Certainly Mr Rickman was a disappointment and, even though he was portraying a sick man, he lacked the usual verve that he seems to bring to most performances. In fact, his normal customary unique inflection on words did more to annoy than to redeem on this occasion. I'd even dare to go so far as to say that, at times - but only at times, mind - he sounded like he'd never had an acting lesson in his life! Then again, I have always considered that he was slightly more suited to stage than screen.
I almost got the impression that the actors were uncomfortable in their roles and, certainly at first - and probably right up until at least half way through - the film seemed to be rather stilted, and not flowing as it should, as if it were some kind of machinery, grinding and bumping, and not quite getting into full motion. Certainly nothing felt particularly natural; rather more forced, as if equally the actors hadn't been bothered to learn their lines and that therefore there was some overly-eager crew member standing on the side with the words written on a board to read off ad hoc. As it went on though, it sort of picked up a gear, as if everyone was finally coming to terms with what they were starring in. Of course that could have all been just my imagination, but it certainly didn't make me feel like I was part of the action ('action' being a relative term here). There really wasn't that much of anything to warrant it having my total, undivided attention. I got the distinct impression that it was perhaps a film suffering somewhat from lack of direction. To be honest, I almost, and kind of half-heartedly, expected the Director to suddenly keep shouting out "Cut! Let's try that again!"
The plot itself, whilst no doubt brilliant as a written novel, came across on the screen as so far-fetched as to be almost farcical. Set in Germany just before WWI and centered on a married woman who falls in love with her husband's protégé, the two would-be lovers are at first separated by duties and then by the war. And whilst they do eventually pledge their devotion to one another, it tends to be a rather weak wishy-washy half-promise. Sadly, I could not engage with any of the characters enough to really feel for them, and certainly not enough to believe in the so-called love between Charlotte Hoffmeister (Rebecca Hall) and Friedrich Zeitz (Richard Madden). The flimsiness of their affair - which basically consisted of the slightest of occasional touches and Friedrich seemingly having some sort of obsession/fetish with Charlotte's (or 'Lotte' as she liked to be called) swan-like slim neck - all seemed rather tentative in my humble opinion. And a final confession of their feelings for each other, just before Friedrich goes off to Mexico on a work assignment, didn't really do much to add any thicker weave to the gossamer threads of it all. That their 'relationship', such that it was, could have survived what must have been nine years of separation, is surely stretching the elasticity of credibility almost to snapping point.
'A Promise' may well be one of those films that improves on a second viewing ... but I'm personally not making any promises.
A Promise is the second film released this year based on the works of author Stefan Zweig, the first being The Grand Budapest Hotel, but unlike that zany clever directed comedy, here we are in strict melodrama territory.
Set 100 years ago, A young Freidrich Zeitz becomes employed by Alan Rickman's Karl Hoffmeister as his private secretary. Hoffmeister is seriously ill, so Zeitz moves in to his house alos occupied by Charlotte Hoffmeister, Karl's much younger wife. Zeitz falls for Charlotte, and eventually this love is returned by her. However, Karl sends Zeitz on a work engagement for two years in Mexico, war breaks out, and soon the letters sent between the lovers stop.
A Promise has come in for much criticism as being dull and unfortunately I have to agree. Nothing really happens, and just as things might happen, the characters are separated for a large chunk of the film. The acting is nothing special either with long lingering looks from windows, or bizarre sniffing of piano keys or pillows, though Alan Rickman does boost the proceedings by being in it.
It's only been out at the cinema for a week, but has obviously been rushed out to coincide with 100th anniversary of World War 1, though there's only a 10 minute segment in the film linking with the war.
A dull disappointment. Must promise to do better next time!
Stefan Zweig’s novella, Journey into the past, is remarkably cinematic in its form. It begins at the very end, then flashes back to the beginning, and then flashes back and forward in time until we are back at the beginning – which is also the happy ending of this bitter-sweet romance. In fact, it is actually more cinematic than this film.
Though director Patrice Leconte and his fellow-screenwriter Jérôme Tonnerre have given the narrative a more conventional linear form in A Promise, postponing Zweig’s opening disclosure of the ultimate triumph of true love over circumstance to the very end of the movie, and have made some significant changes and additions, their movie is nevertheless true to Zweig’s typically Viennese schadenfreude.
The story was not published until 30 years after the author’s suicide in 1942, but Zweig actually started work on it in the mid-1920s, which is exactly when it ends, with the lovers about to consummate their relationship as the ultra-nationalist Freikorps chant their fascistic slogans in the streets of Heidelberg.
Some of the screenplay changes are insignificant, and a bit hard to understand. Why, for instance, change the name of the Richard Madden character from Ludwig to Friedrich? And while he confesses to Lotte (Rebecca Hall) that he has had other women during his nine-year stay in Mexico, in the book he actually has acquired a wife and family there, which presumably he is willing to abandon for his true love back in Austria.
Lotte’s husband, who dies quite early in the book, plays a much larger role in the film – a superb performance from Alan Rickman. He is very much the complaisant husband in the movie, confessing on his deathbed that he always expected Lotte and Fritz to fall in love, and brought them together in his home for that very purpose.
While it is unlikely to rank alongside the great Ophuls’ Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) or even Maurice Elvey’s neglected Beware of Pity (1946), A Promise is true to the spirit if not the letter of Stefan Zweig’s neglected masterpiece.
This review has also been posted on the Movietime blog: http://wp.me/p4LSXI-9.
A very beautiful, subtle and sensitive interpretation of a simple love story set in pre WW1 Germany, just before the world as it was then changed forever. Rebecca Hall is glorious, I watched this after seeing her in Parade's End, she did not disappoint. If you enjoy quality period dramas you will like this.