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dir Terry George
scr Terry George, Robin Swicord
prd Mike Medavoy, Ralph Winter, Eric Esrailian, William Horberg
with Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Charlotte Le Bon, Angela Sarafyan, Marwan Kenzari, Kevork Malikyan, Tom Hollander, Rade Serbedzija, Tamer Hassan, James Cromwell, Jean Reno
release US 21.Apr.17, UK 28.Apr.17
Facing a crisis: Le Bon, Isaac and Bale
TORONTO FILM FEST
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The systematic murder of more than a million Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians between 1915 and 1923 has long been denied by the Turkish government. Filmmakers Terry George and Robin Swicord use fictional characters to bring real events to life. So the film carries a controversial kick, even if the narrative feels manufactured. And it's sharply written, directed and acted to draw chilling present-day parallels.
In 1915 Constantinople, Mikael (Isaac) is studying to become a doctor so he can return to his fiancee Maral (Sarafyan) back home. Then he falls for Ana (Le Bon), a fellow Armenian whose boyfriend Chris (Bale) is an American journalist covering rumours of war as the Ottoman Empire breaks apart. When Germany joins in, the new government begins rounding up minority ethnic groups. Mikael is arrested, but escapes to find his parents (Agdashloo and Malikyan) and Maral. Meanwhile, Chris and Ana are trying to break the story and help a group of refugee orphans.
While the intensity of the wartime story holds the interest, the earnest tone and four-sided romantic plot threaten to fill the movie with soapy melodrama. Isaac plays Mikael as a likeable good guy who just wants to do the right thing. His chemistry with Le Bon's equally sincere Ana is strong, and she adds edge to her role as an independent-minded activist. Bale is solid but, as expected for a journalist, too cynically aloof to root for as a romantic lead. And the eerily wan Sarafyan is lost in the shuffle.
Director George capitalises on strong side roles for starry supporting players like Aghdashloo, Hollander (a work-camp inmate), Hassan (a villainous Turkish general), Serbedzija (a rabble-rousing mayor), Cromwell (an alert US ambassador) and Reno (a compassionate French admiral). These people come and go to avoid overcrowding the movie, but their plotthreads can't help but leave it feeling fragmented. Perhaps more Mikael and less Chris might have focussed the perspective.
That said, the events are so important that they can't be dismissed. While it predates the Second World War by decades, echoes of the Nazi's Final Solution are terrifying, raising some big questions about why Hitler was allowed to further develop these tactics. But then, humanity has never been good at learning from history, as is witnessed in the situation today on Turkey's border with Syria. And seeing this film's depiction of families fleeing into the sea from attacking military forces couldn't be much more timely.
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© 2017 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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