You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broken Promise

Sheer luck and special skills help a Jewish Slovak adolescent survive the WWII years.

With: Samuel Spisak, Ondrej Vetchy, Andrej Mojzis, Roman Luknar.

Sheer luck and special skills help a Jewish Slovak adolescent survive the WWII years in Holocaust drama “Broken Promise,” from Czech helmer Jiri Chlumsky. Based on the autobiography of Martin Friedmann-Petrasek, the pic is a mixed bag: Sometimes clunky and cliched, at other times genuinely affecting, it could travel beyond its natural audience of Jewish-interest fests and ancillary if it finds success as Slovakia’s foreign-language film Oscar submission. Pusan-bound pic is seeking a North American distributor after its pact with Picture This Entertainment fell through; deals have already been sealed in territories including Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Japan.

Like Agnieszka Holland’s “Europa Europa” and Lajos Koltai’s “Fateless,” “Broken Promise” traces an Eastern European youth’s painful fight for survival against a backdrop of increasing anti-Semitism, deportations and death camps, but helmer Chlumsky’s melodramatic storytelling seems modeled on a made-for-TV movie. Nevertheless, Friedmann-Petrasek’s personal story remains gripping despite the pic’s problems of pacing and tone.

In 1939, in the Western Slovak village of Banovce nad Bebravou, Martin (Samuel Spisak) is preparing for his bar mitzvah. One of nine children of a poultry merchant, Martin is more concerned with his soccer abilities than with the fact that his newly formed country has become an ally of Hitler’s Germany. However, his father (Ondrej Vetchy) senses the gathering storm, and asks the extended family to swear they will meet every year for Passover.

But as hard times arrive in earnest, it’s not a promise the family members are able to keep. By 1942, local Jewish shops are “Aryanized” and various Friedmann siblings transported to Poland. Against his parents’ wishes, Martin volunteers to go to a labor camp in Sered, where he quickly loses what innocence remains when his possessions are stolen and he learns the true fate of those sent to Poland. But as the star player on the camp soccer team, he earns a few extra rations and is rescued from the transports by a soccer-mad commandant.

After surviving pneumonia and laboring for a period in a monastery, Martin joins a group of Soviet-led partisans in the mountains under the name Martin Petrasek and becomes a favorite of the drunken, chess-playing Russian captain (Roman Luknar) in the overlong final section. The closing moments, however, are the film’s most moving.

Emphasizing the rampant anti-Semitism Martin faces at every turn, the screenplay by Chicago-based Czech scribe Jan Novak crams in a considerable amount of Slovak history, including the fact that Martin used to join Christian friends to ring the bells at the local church administered by Jozef Tiso (soon to become head of the fascist Slovak state). It also weighs down the proceedings with some lugubrious dialogue.

Slovak newcomer Spisak, only 16 at the time of filming and credibly aged with makeup, anchors the pic with a sensitive performance of considerable gravitas. The rest of the thesping varies widely, with most of the supporting players unable to lend depth to their one-dimensional characters; among the few who leave a strong impression is Andrej Mojzis as the monastery’s noble prior. Chlumsky’s unnuanced direction runs into the most trouble in awkwardly staged crowd scenes.

Made on a tight budget, the period production package is thoroughly pro, but looks overlit in the manner of so many telepics. The lush orchestral score hammers home every big emotion.

Popular on Variety

Broken Promise

Slovakia-Czech Republic-U.S.

Production: A Genta Film, Ministry of Culture Slovak Republic, Slovak TV (Slovakia)/Czech TV, SPI Intl. Central Europe (Czech Republic)/Studio 727 (Slovakia)/Jewish Partisan Educational Fund (U.S.) production. (International sales: Film Europe, Prague.) Produced by Iveta Cerna Ivanova. Directed by Jiri Chlumsky. Screenplay, Jan Novak.

Crew: Camera (color), Jan Duris; editor, Vasileios Skalenakis; music, Michal Novinski, costume designer, Simona Vachalkova; sound (Dolby Digital). Reviewed on DVD, Chicago, Sept. 30, 2009. (In Karlovy Vary, Pusan film festivals; Berlin Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 129 MIN. (Slovak, Russian dialogue)

With: With: Samuel Spisak, Ondrej Vetchy, Andrej Mojzis, Roman Luknar.

More Film

  • They Shall Not Grow Old restoration

    Peter Jackson Documentary 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Nabs Limited China Release

    The Peter Jackson produced and directed World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” will hit Chinese theaters on November 11. Though it will roll out nationwide, it will do so via the China’s National Arthouse Alliance, which has limited screens. The 2018 documentary puts together interviews with WWI veterans and more than 100-year-old [...]

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    'Zombieland: Double Tap' Hopes to Recapture Raunchy Zombie Magic, 10 Years Later

    Audiences may have a few questions about the sequel to 2009’s hit “Zombieland,” which opens Friday. Why did it take 10 years to make a second one, after the first grossed $102.4 million worldwide on a $23 million budget, making it the third-biggest zombie movie of all time (second-biggest if you don’t count “Hotel Transylvania,” [...]

  • AMC TheatresShop signs, Los Angeles, America

    AMC Theatres Accused of Firing VP Who Complained of Gender Pay Gap

    A former vice president at AMC Theatres filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday, accusing the company of firing her after she complained that she was paid far less than her male peers. Tonya Mangels, who was vice president of product marketing, said that in March 2018 her supervisor inadvertently sent her a spreadsheet that included [...]

  • Sir Elton John poses for photographers

    Elton John Calls 'Lion King' Remake a 'Huge Disappointment'

    Elton John isn’t feeling the love for Disney’s latest live-action remake. In an interview with GQ U.K., the legendary musician criticized Disney’s remake of “The Lion King,” citing the film’s music as a “huge disappointment.” “The new version of The Lion King was a huge disappointment to me, because I believe they messed the music [...]

  • Fiddlin'

    Film Review: 'Fiddlin''

    Not many forms of music have “old-” actually built into their name as a prefix. So it’s a given that the practitioners of the 200-year-old genre known as “old-time music” will wear their antiquity proudly in “Fiddlin’,” a documentary set in and around the 80th annual Old Fiddler’s Convention in Galax, Va. What may not [...]

  • Jonah Hill attends the press conference

    Jonah Hill Passes on Role in 'The Batman'

    After being offered a role in “The Batman,” Jonah Hill has moved on from the project. Why exactly Hill is passing is currently unknown, and insiders tell Variety that when the news was initially reported, it was very early in the negotiations and that a deal was far from closing. The news comes after Zoe [...]

  • Daniel Kaluuya Elizabeth Moss

    SCAD Savannah Film Festival Honorees Include Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss

    Daniel Kaluuya, Elisabeth Moss, Danielle Macdonald, Aldis Hodge, Valerie Pachner, Samantha Morton, Sienna Miller, Alan Silvestri and Olivia Wilde are set to be honored at the 22nd Annual SCAD Savannah Film Festival. Breakout Award honorees include Beanie Feldstein, Kaitlyn Dever, Jharrel Jerome, Mena Massoud and Camila Morrone. Macdonald, who appears on Netflix in “Unbelievable” and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content