‘The Promise’: Tehran Review

Summer tragedy brings an end to innocence in Mohammad Ali Talebi’s story for young people

Mohammad Ali Talebi has explored the world of childhood and young adolescence in films now considered Iranian classics, like his award-winning The Willow and the Wind about a lone schoolboy forced to carry a pane of glass across fields and mountains. His most recent effort returns to the theme of the crises of young adulthood in the delicately wrought The Promise.  The story of a boy coming to terms with the death of his best friend, for which he feels partly responsible, is highly believable but only involving up to the point when the dramatic trajectory becomes evident, which happens early on in the film.  It won Best Film award at the last Isfahan Festival for Children and Young Adults and Talebi’s sterling reputation should propel it into the international fest circuit.

Based on a short story by the American children’s writer Marion Dane Bauer, Hassan Bayanloo’s screenplay has a timeless, universal quality that Talebi deftly adapts to a rural Iranian setting. The hero is Pooriya, an obedient, almost overly compliant 15-year-old boy who helps his parents out on the farm during summer vacation. But he itches to escape on his bike and roam the hills at top speed with his best buddy Danial. Events unfold in flashbacks as details of the tragedy are revealed, but it’s obvious what happened and there are few surprises.

The Bottom Line

A deftly woven father-son drama that’s short on suspense

The film opens on Pooriya’s nightmare of swimming  underwater, urgently looking for something. When he wakes up, Danial is missing and his parents are frantic. Pooriya, who has solemnly promised his Dad not to stray off the main roads, is scared out of his wits and pretends to know nothing. But he has Danial’s wet clothes under his bed, which like his own “stink of river water,” and he won’t look his parents in the face.

So the story is out of the bag within the first 30 minutes and the suspense is almost nil, apart from how the thin-skinned Pooriya will weather the storm. Talebi boldly plays on his guilt-wracked psychology, particularly his relationship with the stern father figure. Interior monologs are put to good use to express his wishes, regrets and anguish, but they’re hardly dramatic.

The bucolic atmosphere and summer colors of a day in the country are expressively captured by D.P.  Ali Mohammad Ghasemi, who seems to take his cue from classic French films, as does Siavash Talebi’s enjoyable score.

Cast: Mehdi Shiroudi, Masoumeh Mirhosseini, Majid Potki, Nasrin Babaee, Danial Khoshsima, Mohammad Reza Jafari, Mohammad Reza Noon Langeroodi
Director: Mohammad Ali Talebi
Hassan Bayanloo, based on a short story by Marion Dane Bauer
Director of photography: Ali Mohammad Ghasemi
Production and costume designer:
Mohammad Ali Talebi
Editor: Arash Talebi
Music: Siavash Talebi
Sales Agent: Farabi Cinema
No rating, 75 minutes