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by Wolfgang Murnberger
In I Promise Wolfgang Murnberger undoubtedly relies on many clichés concerning not only military life, but also – and above all – the always complicated transition from childhood to adulthood. These clichés, however, manage to fully capture the feelings of the young protagonists, making this important feature film an extremely intimate and intelligent work.
Now a cult film in Austria, I Promise – made in 1994 – is undoubtedly one of the most successful films by the prolific filmmaker Wolfgang Murnberger. Yes, because, in fact, in this important feature film of his, the director from Wiener Neustadt has skilfully combined drama and autobiography in staging a reality that many people know or have experienced. A reality that, on the big screen, has always exerted a certain fascination on filmmakers all over the world.
We find ourselves, then, in 1980. Young Berger (played by Christoph Dostal) comes from a small village in eastern Austria. With a great talent for drawing and a passion for music, the boy helps his family run a cinema and is in love with shy Veronika. His daily routine, however, is interrupted when he has to do military service. His days spent together with his comrades, the dream of an impossible love, the rare moments of intimacy inside a toilet where he can draw everything that comes into his mind, but also – and above all – his thoughts and reflections on life and death are the absolute protagonists. How will the boy be changed by this new experience?
I Promise is a stream of consciousness that brings into play not only every single aspect of the young soldiers’ lives, but also universal issues such as love, religion, friendship and family. Texts from Hermann Hesse’s coming-of-age novel Demian perfectly match the vicissitudes of young Berger, who immediately becomes a sort of postmodern Emil Sinclair. The protagonist’s voiceover gets the better of the dialogue, the images follow one another quickly on the screen and while we see the protagonist, together with his friends, driving through the streets of Vienna at night, we immediately find ourselves now in the dormitory of the barracks – where there is never enough time to prepare for action – now in the foyer of the small village cinema – where one is no longer satisfied with a few kisses with one’s girlfriend.
The lives of young soldiers are a constant preparation for possible actions. In the meantime, life goes on, John Lennon is murdered, Christmas arrives and, during a carnival party, the prettiest girl is seduced by the smartest one. In I Promise Wolfgang Murnberger undoubtedly relies on many clichés concerning not only military life, but also – and above all – the always complicated transition from childhood to adulthood. These clichés, however, fully capture the feelings of the young protagonists, making this important feature film an extremely intimate and intelligent work, which takes nothing for granted and knows how to make each character extremely alive and vibrant.
Wolfgang Murnberger knows very well what to stage. He has experienced it first-hand and – just like the young Berger who crosses his fingers during the oath – clearly does not approve it. His I Promise is the desperate cry of a sensitive young man who is not allowed to give vent to his feelings and artistic ambitions. It is a portrait of a reality that considers human beings as animals for slaughter. A reality that concerns the contemporary world, but which finds its ideal setting in the Middle Ages. Just as evocative dreamlike moments, which – strictly in black and white – almost remind us of an Ingmar Bergman film, show. What will become of young people? Will they finally manage to find their place in the world or will they be forced to wander forever aimlessly through huge expanses of green on a wild horse?
Original title: Ich gelobe
Directed by: Wolfgang Murnberger
Country/year: Austria / 1994
Running time: 115’
Genre: drama, war, coming-of-age
Cast: Christoph Dostal, Andreas Lust, Andreas Simma, Marcus J. Carney, Leopold Altenburg, Albert Weilguny, Johannes Kollmann, Robert Taurer, Peter Januschke, Josef Kuderna, Hans Sigl, Markus Schleinzer, Reinhold G. Moritz, Sahin Ali Haydar, Josef Selzer, Gerd Eichler, Horst Eder, Hertha Schell, Maria Tritremmel, Udo Kohlmann, Rudolf Neumayr, Gerhard Leutgeb, Pia Baresch, Monika Praxmarer, Sabine Waibel, Elisabeth Lanz, Thierry van Werveke, Janine Wegener
Screenplay: Wolfgang Murnberger
Cinematography: Fabian Eder
Produced by: Dor Film