Let's have a show of hands. Who can tell me anything about the Ottoman Empire? Where was it? When did it exist? How long did it last? If you are anything like me, you probably won't be able to answer those questions, particularly if you were educated in the United States. World History is a thing of the past in our schools and the smattering of what we had was limited to western Europe and the United States. Ancient History was all about Greece and Rome.
At the height of its power, the Ottoman Empire encompassed big chunks of Europe and Asia, parts of Africa, plus much of the Near and Middle East. It was headquartered in Constantinople (now Istanbul) and was in existence from 1299 up into 1923. (I Googled it!) Our film takes place as it has begun its final decade. Now that you understand the macro view, let's move to the micro.
Acclaimed writer/director Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda") and his co-writer Robin Swicord ("Memoirs of a Geisha"), inspired by true events, bring us an eternal triangle set against a backdrop of turmoil and genocide. It's 1914 and the run-up to World War One has begun; the Germans are successfully courting the Turks.
A small part of the wonderful cast:
This PG-13 film offers a LOT of violence, some romance, and no profanity; its main purpose is to illustrate the actions of the Turks as they systematically begin slaughtering Armenians. This has been an international scandal for over 100 years and Turkey still denies it. Please stay for the information displayed during the final credits. It provides statistics and documentation.
- Oscar Isaac ("Star Wars") is Mikael, an Armenian pharmacist who intends to become a doctor, so he is attending medical school in Constantinople. I wonder if Oscar will get an Oscar for his moving portrayal of a decent man swept into a larger catastrophe?
- Christian Bale ("The Big Short") is Associated Press reporter Chris Myers, an American who is in Turkey to report on the situation. His clear-eyed assessment is the last thing either the Germans or the Turks want to see.
- Angela Sarafyan ("Westward") is Maral, the object of their affections. She is Armenian but has been living in Paris. She comes back when her father dies.
- Showreh Aghadashloo ("Star Trek Beyond") This hard-working Iranian actress plays everybody's mother. This time she is Marta, trying to protect her son Mikael from their enemies.
- James Cromwell ("Murder in the First") watch Ambassador Morgenthau when the Turks ask him to contact Equitable Life Insurance for payout on policies for dead Armenians!
This is compelling movie making with terrific production values enhanced by adroit actors who convincingly inhabit their characters. Some of the most eloquent scenes in the entire film take place between two people with nary a spoken word. Brilliant. (And think how smart you will be: You will know about the Ottoman Empire AND the massacre of Armenians,)