Film Review: Promised
It’s 1974 – a time of liberation and change, and Angela Cavelli dreams of life beyond her parents’ pastry shop.
Passionate about her literature studies and in love with her boyfriend, Tom, Angela’s ambitions are abruptly put on hold when confronted by a promise from her past.
21 years earlier, her conservative, Italian father had already decided Angela’s future. She was to marry Robert, the son of a very unsubtle crime boss who Angela’s father felt indebted to.
With the now 26-year-old Robert returning home from abroad (and seemingly too frightened to stand up to his powerful father) Angela has little choice but to go through with the arranged marriage.
Promised is a low budget film, only made possible by the passion of writer-director Nick Conidi and the star-power of Tina Arena, who plays the role of Angela’s mother, Rosalba.
As such, it’s a little rough around the edges.
These minor issues are understandable and certainly forgivable provided that the film delivers something unique and ambitious.
At first, it’s easy to be skeptical that Promised is in a position to do this.
The film makes it clear that arranged marriages were relics in 1974. What could Promised possibly have to say in 2019 that would feel new or interesting?
It’s at this point that I have to reveal that Angela and Robert are wed barely halfway through the movie – leaving behind the expected premise of the film and making a spoiler-free review much more challenging than I was expecting.
It’s here that we see the true theme of the film emerge: in love, you never know what to expect.
Appropriately, in Promised, you never know what to expect.
What follows is a series of secrets, revelations and misunderstandings designed to question everything we thought we knew about the characters. In turn, this forces the audience to question everything we thought we knew about the filmmakers’ intent.
As I write this, I still have no idea what Conidi and co. were actually trying to say about the institution of arranged marriage. They certainly don’t condemn it and come eerily close to condoning some… questionable behaviour by our leading man.
Credit where credit’s due, this certainly keeps Promised from being the romantic retread it was in danger of being.
Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m completely convinced by the result.
Promised’s biggest issue is its choice to withhold information about the characters rather than allow them to grow and change in front of us.
You could argue that this works thematically. Watching Promised was in a sense like marrying a relative stranger. It seemed simple and well-meaning at first but the longer you watch, the more you realise how many dark secrets lie at its core.
Does it make for a satisfying cinematic experience? Not really. However, I’d be lying if I said this movie didn’t stay with me for days after viewing.
Even if I don’t quite understand what they were going for, I really want to understand.
So do me a favour, go see Promised this weekend. Then come back and we’ll talk about it again. I’ve still got so much left to say.
Promised opens in Australian cinemas on October 24, 2019.