PROMISED, Australia, 2019. Starring Antoniette Jesue, Daniel Berini, Tina Arena, Paul Mercurio, Mirko Grillini, Santo Tripodi, Sunday Barka Irving, Vince D' Amiko. Directed by Nick Conidi. 97 minutes. Rated PG (Mild sexual references and coarse language)
The ‘Promised’ of the title refers to promises of marriage, not by the partners who commit themselves but by their parents, when they were little children, a marriage arrangement. One of the characters hearing about arranged marriages remarks that this happened only with Indian families. On the contrary, this is an Italian Australian story.
Promised offers an opportunity for Australians of Italian descent to look back at the traditions, the family pressures, Italian community patronage – taken for granted in the past, beginning to be questioned by the 1970s. It is also an opportunity for the wider Australian audience to enter into the life of the Italian communities.
The film was written and directed by Nick Conidi, his first film. With his thanks at the end to his parents for supplying Super-8 footage of a honeymoon in Italy, it seems that this is a very personal story, one that he knows will and wants to communicate to the audience.
At first, we are taken back to 1953, a seemingly serene era in Australian society, mellow photography with the glow of nostalgia, the rather proper suits and dresses, family ceremonies – especially with a little girl crying and a young boy putting a toy beside her, and she stops contentedly. This is the moment of the promise, the boy and the girl promised to each other – by their parents, especially their fathers.
There are quite some changes in Australian society by 1969, the girl is at school studying, the boy is being sent to Oxford to study law. But, the fathers with their eyes still determinedly on their children.
Most of the action takes place in 1974, Robert (Daniel Berini) returns from Oxford, his father setting him up with a legal office, and his being taken to a lavish suburban house, to be his when he marries Angela (Antoniette Jesue). How will Robert cope with his father’s expectations? Angela, on the other hand, studying and writing, has a boyfriend who is setting up an entertainment business. She has no intention of marrying Robert, the promises were made by her parents, not by her.
Obviously, by this stage, audience sympathies will be with Angela, trying to explain the situation to her boyfriend, discussing the situation with Robert. His father, a local Godfather, intervenes, with some dire consequences. Angela’s father and mother (Paul Mercurio and Tina Arena) are wary.
Where this film different from many others is that, while the wedding has to take place, the marriage is lived only on the surface – but, quite some emotional complications, Angela dealing with the disappearance of her boyfriend, Robert trying to make some approaches to his wife, some mellowing, some severe misunderstandings, and a reminder that whether the marriage is arranged or entered into freely, the key importance is that the spouses make the effort, take the time, to appreciate each other – and fall in love, the grounds for any successful marriage.
Umbrella Films Released October 24th
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.