Running Time: 92 mins
Rated: M 15+
One of the images of Australia after WWII that sticks in my mind is of hundreds of girls in their tennis dresses at the showgrounds doing choreographed actions with their racquets. If this 'synchronised tennis' had caught on internationally, by now it could have been an Olympic sport.
15 Amore captures the world of rural Australia in WW II brilliantly, where people played tennis, the days were long, the men were away and the women were in control. Dorothy (Hensely) lives on "Wallalong" in country NSW with her three young children, Brendan, Denis and Mercia. Her Husband, Bill, has been away at war since it started in 1939. The Government has given Dorothy two Italian POW's, Alfredo (Bastoni) and Joseph (Domenic Galati), to help her run the farm. Dorothy offers a home to two German Jewish refugees, Rachel (Tara Jakszewicz) and Madame Guttman (Gertraud Ingeborg). The film's title comes from the way Alfredo calls the score at the regular tennis matches.
Dorothy's kindness to everyone on the farm enables the horror and dislocation of the war to subside through the simple pleasures of gold panning, picnics, tennis matches and meals. Even the weekly visit from the Army to check on the 'enemy aliens' is a reasonable affair. Only the weekly newsreel, shown at the local shire hall, reminds the farm of the horror overseas and the propaganda fed and swallowed at home. Toward the end of the war, however, Joseph falls in love with Rachel and a bitter local battle breaks out at "Wallalong".
This film is largely autobiographical. Director, writer and producer Maurice Murphy lovingly portrays the humanity of the seven other characters with whom he spent the war. He captures so well the collision of cultures we easily forget, like when the Dorothy first eats pasta, or how Madame Guttman is petrified of Australia's snakes and spiders, or when Alfredo's body hosts a tick in the most delicate of places.
Technically the film is very fine indeed. John Brock's cinematography is outstanding, especially the pictures of the insects and animals. Dana Hughes' editing is terrific. The attention to period detail is, on the whole, meticulous. The crockery, cutlery, tennis racquets, fairy cakes and costumes transport us back to 1944. The only let down is the wedding ring on Alfredo's hand and the synthetic tennis court just outside the farms' front gate.
The acting is appropriately low key and unaffected, though the Guttman's German accents seem to wear off as the film goes on. The narrator of the film is the adult Brendan (Bill Hunter) but his voice over is a little too strongly produced to be engaging. Furthermore there seems to be confusion about Brendan's age and the film brings some attention to it. The film opens in 1943 and we are told that Brendan is six. Later we are told that Brendan has never met his father because he was conceived three months before Bill left for the war in September, 1939. The numbers don't add up! Finally, no matter when we see "Wallalong" the clothes and trees tell us it is summer, even when the end of the war is declared in August!
These are small quibbles in comparison to the warmth and humour of this film. 15 Amore is about telling stories we are in danger of forgetting and it won me over game, set and match.
Richard Leonard SJ