Oldenburg During his upbringing in Poland during the early 1900s, young Romain Kacew was certainly not the victim of low expectations. His mother, a failed Russian actress, made sure of that.
From the time when he was little, she told him – and everybody within earshot – her rater concrete expectations for her first and only child. He was going to be a famous novelist, a war-hero, a French ambassador; would dress in suits made in London and bed the most beautiful women in the world.
A rather tall order, one would think. Certainly enough to traumatize a child into a catatonic state. But the opposite did happen, as young Romain managed to achieve all of these lofty goals and then some. Provided that’s what his mother really said, as this is how he told the tale – and considering that he indeed became a gifted and lauded novelist in real life, albeit under the name Romain Gary.
His incredible story is told in Eric Barbier’s „Promise At Dawn“, a sweeping epic with a very intimate story at its core. It is a love story of a different kind, between an eccentric, controlling but ultimately benevolent mother and her dutiful son.
The former is played by Charlotte Gainsbourg in a fashion that basically cries out for an Academy Award nomination, with Pierre Niney doing a masterful job as the older Romain – a sensitive young man trying to escape his mother’s smothering affection, but also hell-bent to fulfill her deepest wishes.
While one would assume that a story about such overpowering motherly love would be bound to end up in the Freudian or Oedipal range, Barbier skillfully avoids these pitfalls and instead goes for a rather humorous path, like the scenes when Romain’s mother dresses him up like a little Lord Fountleroy or visits him at the airbase he’s stationed at. The tone of the film generally stays on the light side of the emotional color scheme, alternating comedy with youthful romance and bold adventure. Which is a good thing, since “Promise At Dawn” turns out to be one of the most engaging, funny and unabashedly entertaining French films in recent memory. Beautifully shot and hauntingly scored, it makes its running time of 131 minutes pass you by in a breeze. One you would hope would blow a little longer.
It will also include heartbreaking tragedy, but at a point where it hits with such a surprising force that nobody should not be embarrassed by a sudden onslaught of tears. It’s what good cinema always was and can be again – a whirlwind of emotions along the path of an amazing tale.