Thursday, 24 April 2014


It takes a good two thirds of A Promise's runtime to actually get to the titular vow. It's a problem with pacing and structure that blights Patrice Leconte's airless film, stolid rather than stately. Leconte has no feel for the passing of time, relying on direction through dialogue to inform us of when we are situated, and often later in proceedings than we may require. It's not enough to allow years to pass and then explain how nothing has changed - you need to show how, and why, M. Leconte. The problem also extends to Leconte and Jerome Tonnerre's treatment of Stefan Zweig's novel. Insistent on detailing every major progression in Zweig's story, they sacrifice emotional depth for breadth, content to languish in the importance of a particular character or subplot one minute, then jettison it the next. They could have jettisoned much of the expository plot, extraneous to the film's core romantic thread, which is miscalculated entirely by Leconte, and feebly acted on the part of Richard Madden, deservedly stalling in his leading debut. One can identify several moments, each further into the film than the last, where this film's story could have begun. But the faithfulness to Zweig's narrative blueprint is unyielding, and also deprives A Promise of much individual character, or sense of style. What stylistic mannerisms Leconte employs thus feel curiously conflicting with the film's classical deportment - a penchant for minute reframing, an inexplicable use of zoom feels like a modern gimmick, and an especially ugly one too. There seems to have been some confusion in the filmmakers' minds regarding where and how to modernise this tale. Yet technical work is grand and graceful - Eduardo Serra lights Ivan Maussion's meticulously-designed sets in gloriously luminescent tones, and Pascaline Chavanne's costumes are pleasingly period-appropriate before attending to contemporary notions of style and sexiness. Gabriel Yared's luscious score, the most successful element of the film in evoking an air of repressed passion, is used as a crutch, though that's not to the film's detriment, even as it flags up the inadequacy of Leconte's staid approach to dated material.