Clearly imagined as a tribute to a colorful sort of woman whose zest for life is eclipsed only by her steadfast belief in her son, Promise at Dawn instead plays out as a disjointed hybrid, part character study, part melodrama, part nostalgia piece. Worse, the key character of the woman comes across not as formidable and idiosyncratic but as delusional and obnoxious. Watching Greek screen icon Melina Mercouri overact for 99 minutes is torturous, and enduring the anything-goes directorial flourishes rendered by her real-life husband, Jules Dassin, makes Promise at Dawn even less palatable. One gets the sense that Dassin and Mercouri found this story charming or even magical, but it is neither. Based on a semiautobiographical novel by Romain Gary, the film covers many years before, during, and after World War II. Polish actress Nina Kacewa, played by Mercouri, has an illegitimate child with fellow thespian Ivan Mosjukine, who is played by Dassin. For various reasons, some political and some related to Nina’s erratic nature, Nina takes her young son from Poland to France, living an nomadic lifestyle while pummeling her boy with peculiar life lessons. “If someone insults your mom,” she says at one point, “they must bring you home on a stretcher.” Nina pushes him to excel at random activities, such as dancing and ping-pong, giving a kid a complex about being destined for greatness. At her most demented, Nina decides that Romain (played as an adult by Assi Dayan) must kill Hitler. Promise at Dawn is lavishly produced and pictorially impressive, but it’s a mess in terms of tone, with heavy political discourse in one scene and idiotic comic business in the next. How the conversations about incest and rape fit into the mix is anyone’s guess. As for the acting, Dayan gives a forgettable performance and Mercouri gives one you’ll wish you could forget.
Promise at Dawn: LAME