By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
A single mother struggles to provide her son with the best and most successful life possible. Now I know this simple synopsis sounds rather cliche and common in cinema now. However, considering that the story takes place between the 1920s and 1950s makes this a more powerful piece than a lot of modern-day movies tackling this subject matter. Based on the autobiographical novel by Romain Gary, Promise at Dawn gives audiences a glimpse at what the acclaimed artist experienced through his extraordinary life.
Author Romain Gary, whose real surname is Kacew, has only his mother to raise him and push him to achieve greatness. The story takes place between the 1920s and 1950s following the lives of Kacew and his mother Nina (Charlotte Gainsbourg), as they struggle to thrive in an anti-Semitic Europe. After managing to achieve a moderately rewarding career in fashion, Nina eventually has to move with her son to France where she hopes to recover from their setbacks. Throughout his life, Romain would receive strict demands from his mother who pushed him to become an acclaimed writer. This dream would face more obstacles as Hitler and the Third Reich would lead Europe into another world war.
Written and directed by Eric Barbier, who co-wrote the script with Marie Eynard, Promise at Dawn proves to be a a compelling and stirring movie. Though Jules Dassin had already adapted this story for cinema, it is, alas, a film I have yet to see. Still, I was certainly intrigued with this adaptation that tells a remarkable story and does so mostly well. Though the film runs over two hours, I feel that some of the editing choices were made a tad foolishly. The movie glosses over certain details that sometimes left me confused and a little frustrated. However, when the movie isn’t raising questions, it definitely draws the audience back into its moving and gripping narative.
Helping achieve this connection with the audience, both Charlotte Gainsbourg and the actors portraying Romain (Pierre Niney, Pawel Puchalski, Nemo Schiffman) perform so well that one can only be moved by this fascinating story. Gainsbourg shows tremendous range and power as Romain’s mother Nina, a determined mother who may not be a sentimental or overly affectionate parent, but one whose strength derives from her dreams of her son’s greatness. All three actors portraying Romain give outstanding performances which perfectly take audiences through Romain’s remarkable journey.
And it is truly a fantastic journey worth experiencing. Barbier’s movie may have its hiccups, but it is a film that still prevails despite its flaws. Promise at Dawn opens in New York on September 6 at the Quad Cinema and is worth experiencing.