The Promise

on January 01, 1979 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
   Screened at Montreal. Here, director/co-scripter Margarethe von Trotta ("Marianne and Juliane") sets her sight on another German symbol, the Berlin Wall, but unlike in her past films she never delves deeply into her subject. In fall 1961, a few months before the Wall is built, two young East German lovers, Sophie (Corinna Harfouch) and Konrad (Meret Becker), try to escape to the West. She makes it, he doesn't, and over the next three decades -- until the Wall falls in 1989 -- the two weave in and out of each other's lives.
   Meant to be bittersweet, "The Promise" is so contrived and cliched as to be almost meaningless. Sophie and Konrad reunite in 1968 Prague; the Soviets promptly invade Czechoslovakia and they're separated again. Flash forward to 1980 and the protests over the stationing in West Germany of NATO missiles aimed at the U.S.S.R.: Sophia and Konrad are again pushed together and pulled apart. When the Wall comes down, a final meeting occurs within a crowd celebrating the historic event -- a device that was old hat in '40s filmmaking.
   Those expecting the multilayered complexity of "Marianne and Juliane" will be disappointed. "The Promise" is a high-gloss soap opera, rife with superficial characters (some of whom -- such as a trio who escape with Sophie -- disappear from the story) and minimal insight into the time's conditions and divisions. Its two leads are bland, but then they're playing symbols. As for emotion, stirring music notwithstanding, "The Promise" displays a near contempt for the audience. People died trying to bridge the Wall, and Germany is still affected by its legacy. The country and its citizens deserve more than this pithy, empty concoction.    Starring Corinna Harfouch and Meret Becker. Directed by Margarethe von Trotta. Written by Peter Schneider and Margarethe von Trotta. Produced by Eberhard Junkersdorf. A Fine Line release. Drama. German-language; subtitled. Rated R for a scene of sexuality, and for language. Running time: 110 min.
Tags: Corinna Harfouch, Meret Becker, Margarethe von Trotta, Peter Schneider and Margarethe von Trotta. Produced by Eberhard Junkersdorf. A Fine Line release. Drama

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