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A Promise

A Promise (2014)

April. 18,2014
| Drama Romance

A romantic drama set in Germany just before WWI and centered on a married woman who falls in love with her husband's teacher. Separated by the war, they pledge their devotion to one another.


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We are in Germany before World War I. Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman) is the aging and ailing husband of young Lotte (Rebecca Hall). He is also an industrial magnate in need of a successor. Enter Friedrich (Richard Madden), a metallurgist with a head for business. He is soon welcomed not only into the industry but into their home. What follows is 90 minutes of Lotte and Friedrich stealing looks at each other, and Karl catching them at it-- at looking, that is, because that is just about the full extent of their indiscretion.The War is the catalyst which sends Friedrich overseas to mine magnesium. Karl remains at home, dying, and Lotte watches. There's a lot of watching in this movie, and not a lot of plot. You would not miss much if you kept your thumb on fast-forward.The problem with love stories is that they require chemistry between the lovers. There is no chemistry here. Literally, none. Rebecca Hall plays Lotte with an abundance of poise and dignity, and no small amount of charm. She's the animated one. Richard Madden, on the other hand, has a handsome but empty face. He wears his one blank expression throughout the movie. Except for the rare instances when he laughs, he is blank-- as blank when he's talking about war profiteering as he is blank when his crotch is being fondled by his high-spirited and adorable mistress (Shannon Tarbet), who calls him Fritz and disappears from the film early. Whatever feelings of desire come through are generated by the audience-- for me, that was a desire for the two of them to get on with things, or for the movie to end.The key scene-- the one with actual insight into the emotional landscape adults muddle through --is effective, however, because it captures how very strange estrangement is when, with passing time, it displaces love. When Friedrich returns from overseas, after a decade, he and Lotte have become virtual strangers. The war has interrupted even their correspondence. They must take for granted, somehow, that they were once devoted to each other, if they are to live happily ever after. It is a worthy scene, but the scenes that come before, and even after, are too long in the telling, with too little told, and too little feeling touching the heart.


Usually, when there is a love story involving one woman and two man, it's always the same content : it's about cheating, infidelity ; there is a lot of graphic sex scenes or at least erotic moments ; it always ends in violence as the deceived man seeks revenge ! Here nothing like that happens and i could have written this story as it's exactly my feelings and what would be my attitude in such a situation : sure it's « bad » to love two persons at the same time, all the more if you are already engaged to one but as passion is unexpected, it would be stupid to say that it can't happen. However, if as humans, we can't control her feelings, at least, we are accountable for our actions : so if we have promised to love and support the spouse, we are committed to our words and we can't fulfill our passion with number two as long as number one is alive. Thus, the only solution for those lovers is to wait that number one either goes away either dies and this is what this movie actually depicts ! no kiss, no foreplay, no sex, thus no infidelity as long as « Severus Snape » is alive. Rebecca has to wait patiently, without losing hope because fate with World War I keeps delaying her new life ! It's all the more difficult as it was the start of the XXth century so manners and lifestyle were really strict : A bit like the Victorians English, everything related to desire was bottled up (clothes, arts, …) so even the more trivial situations were like sublimation for this forbidden passion ! The movie is really excellent to depict their reality and the cast is really wonderful : The sadly late « Snape » was always cool portraying ambivalent guy who speaks little but knows much ; Rebecca delivers one of her best work as she has indeed this kind of passion and fragility and for sure righteousness. In addition, as she is really beautiful for my eyes, i can plunge easily into each of her movies that put her as the desired woman. Sure, a lot of scenes drags a bit, the setting is a bit dark, strict but having our french famous director staged for English cast such a beautiful love story in Germany was really unexpected and totally captivating !


I watched this film and was anxious to see a period piece set in Germany pre WWI but it never quite got off the ground. There is no chemistry between the two lovers. The male lead is not somebody a wife would fall in love with even if he is there all the time. He had no personality. He does not make her laugh, is not all that great with the son and offers no sex appeal. Rickman offers the only acting spark. It would have been interesting to see more of what Germany was like leading up, during and after the defeat of the war. Would make for such wonderful material both in plot and theme. A feeble attempt was made to stir up the politico in a scene close to the end where there is an aggressive street demonstration with people wearing swastikas. The Nazi party did not come into existence at the time the film depicts (end of war 1918). The DAP which was the predecessor of the Nazi party came into being in 1919 but it was not known enough for a street demonstration in 1918 and not with Nazi swastikas. These are simple facts I found online. I would not have researched had there not been that street demonstration scene with swastikas. It was totally out of place for the rest of the film. There should have been more of these types of scenes as there were riots in Germany in 1916 because of shortages in fuel and food. The film totally missed the effects the war had on the German people. The kiss at the end was as passionless as the whole lifeless movie.


"A Promise" is a film that I had a very hard time enjoying. While it has some lovely cinematography and some amazingly pretty scenes of pre- World War One Germany, the story itself is amazingly sterile and bereft of energy. When the story begins, Friedrich (Richard Madden) is an amazingly capable and efficient assistant. Over time, he becomes invaluable to the boss, Herr Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman) and is his trusted aid. So, when Hoffmeister becomes ill and cannot remain on the job, he invites Friedrick to come to his home and relay his instructions to the factory. So, each day Friedrich shuttles back and forth from work to the Hoffmeister home--where he slowly begins to notice the boss' wife, Lotte Hoffmeister (Rebecca Hall). She is significantly younger than her husband and over time, she and Friedrich become more and more friendly and eventually he becomes almost like a member of the family--taking the young son and his mother on various outings. So, it's not surprising that Friedrich develops feelings for her...and then her husband sends Friedrich to be the company's liaison in Mexico. What's to become of their relationship? And, more importantly, does the audience even care?!As I sat and watched this film, several things struck me. The entire project was very, very lifeless. Throughout EVERYTHING, Friedrich and the boss' wife showed almost no energy and there was really almost no chemistry between them. They eventually SAID they loved each other but you wonder where this came from. As for him, you can tell he's obsessed as he spends his time sniffing where the Missus had been (THIS IS SO CREEPY). But with her, you really have no idea she reciprocates the feelings during so much of the movie because she is so incredibly restrained...too restrained. For the most part, the film is about repressed feelings and you almost never see them expressed. Had you LIKED the characters, this pain would have actually made the film quite intriguing. But, because it's very difficult to care about them, the film is so very, very dull. In essence, the film lacked romance--which is BAD because it's supposed to be a romance!I should add to this that MUCH of the film occurs during WWI and the film barely even mentions it (like it's a minor inconvenience that gets in the way of their love) and you are left baffled at so much of the film. Most baffling is the pair FINALLY meet long after the war is over...and their conversation is stilted and ultra-bizarre. I call it a case of poorly written and difficult to believe dialog and you just have to hear it to believe it. Overall, other than the lovely costumes, sets, music and cinematography, I cannot find much about "A Promise" that would get me to recommend it.By the way, the DVD for this film follows an annoying new trend. You cannot easily play the film but must slog through many promos for other films, as the MENU feature and SKIP buttons are disabled. You can use the FAST FORWARD keys but must hit them repeatedly to skip past each ad.