16 December 2021

Patrice Leconte's A Promise (2014)

A Promise is Patrice Leconte's first (and almost definitely only) English film, and also has the theme of voyeurism (vide Monsieur Hire, Le Mari de la coiffeuse, Le Parfum d'Yvonne, for example) of the coveted object.

Almost universally, the critics panned this adaptation of Stefan Zweig's story and negatively compared it to other cinematic Zweig adaptations: Max Ophul's Lettre d'une inconnue (1948) and Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). I find this somewhat baffling because I really enjoyed A Promise

The main criticisms were the slowness of the film, its inability to contact with the viewer, the perceived wooden acting of Richard Madden (playing Friederich Zeitz), but this is a film about a very bright but initially poor graduate who quickly gains the attention of Karl Hoffmeister (Alan Rickman), the ailing director of a prominent steel company in Germany. Soon, Friederich is gaining a great deal of confidence from his boss, who becomes reduced to working from home, which Friederich frequently visits to inform his boss of the business activities. There he meets Karl's much younger wife Lotte (Rebecca Hall) and her son, to whom he is giving lessons. In fact he is soon moving from his garret to join them in Karl's very comfortable home.

This is where the problems multiply because Friederich has fallen in love with his boss's wife, and any apparently constipated acting is inevitably a result of Friederich concealing his emotions, which Lotte also has to do too because her feelings are mutual.

Then a major emotional crisis occurs, where Friederich has to spend two years in Mexico: the two (platonic) lovers can hardly stand it. And then the two years become seven as World War I intervenes and the (virtual) couple are even unable to correspond. When Friederich eventually returns Karl has died and the two find communication difficult. But their feelings for each have not changed and they tentatively begin the relationship. This was the part I found the least difficult to take: most people like a happy ending but me? No thanks, I prefer real.

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