Antoinette Iesue, Daniel Berini, Paul Mercurio, Tina Arena
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…bravely wears its sweetness and positivity like a badge of honour.
Australia is rich with multicultural stories, but sadly, they only make their way to the screen erratically and with far less frequency than they should. Sure, there are obvious films like They’re A Weird Mob, Head On, Footy Legends, and Ali’s Wedding, but considering the rich and diverse array of people that make up this country, there should probably be a lot more. Something of a throwback, the new comedy-drama Promised looks at one of Australia’s earlier waves of immigration, when the Italian arrivals of the 1950s – and then their children and grandchildren – brought so much (particularly in the cultural and culinary fields) to this country. Written and co-directed (along with Nathan Primmer and Tony Ferrieri) by first-timer, Nick Conidi (and partly inspired by his own family history), Promised is set in a far more innocent era, and it bravely wears its sweetness and positivity like a badge of honour.
The film begins in 1953 when two tiny children are somewhat glibly promised to each other in future marriage by their fathers in an era when such arrangements were not uncommon. By the time the two children have become adults, however, it’s the early 1970s, and things have changed. With the world in flux around her, Angela (the utterly charming Antoinette Iesue) is at uni and wants to become a writer, while the slightly older Robert (the equally charming Daniel Berini) is now a successful lawyer, but still under the thrall of his powerful, “connected” father, Joe (the commanding Mirko Grillini). Pushed along by her father and more reluctant mother (well played by big names Paul Mercurio and Tina Arena, who bring requisite gravity to the project), Angela agrees to the marriage, but things don’t exactly go to plan.
Though obviously not made on a huge budget, Conidi and his team evoke Australia in the early 1970s well with crafty set design and costuming, providing a nicely nostalgic backdrop for the equally nostalgic story. Thanks to the smart dialogue, heartfelt vibe, and winning performances, the undeniable soft-focus of Promised (it’s a disappointingly less-than-damning discussion of such an essentially horrid practice) never becomes overly problematic, with the film ultimately fixing as one more for the heart than the head.