It’s Australia, 1971, and a revolution is happening in the cities. But in the country, things stay exactly the same.
The first thing I noticed about LITTLE TORNADOES was the overwhelming soundscape. The insects were singing. They chirped, or shrieked, in a way that was almost claustrophobic. It made it seem like a horror film, but the jump scare never came. Instead, I had to sit with the oppressive feeling of nothing changing, of a town stuck in time. Terrible, terrible inertia.
LITTLE TORNADOES is a skilfully constructed film. And in a way, it is stuck in time. Director Aaron Wilson shot the film footage in 2009, but it was only finished when Christos Tsiolkas scripted the narration during lockdown.
Narration in a film is hard to get right: filmmakers are usually told to, ‘show, don’t tell’. But the narration in LITTLE TORNADOES feels not just necessary: it’s at the core of what makes this film work. This is a testament to the skill of everyone involved, how it breaks a few film rules, but manages to make the film richer for the experience.
The narration might have been the finishing touch, but the bones of the film are excellent too. LITTLE TORNADOES tells the story of Leo (played by Mark Leonard Winter, of BALIBO, FIRES). He’s a young man who, in stark contrast to our talkative narrator, finds it hard to speak about anything. He’s got so much trauma weighing him down, he is literally hunched over. His wife has left him, after years of begging him to leave this town. He and his two children are set adrift, living on baked beans on toast and silence.
His father (Robert Menzies) is an old farmer, even more silent than Leo. He’s suffering PTSD from his experiences in World War II. I mean, if you asked him, he’d say (if he ever said anything) he was managing it as well as can be expected. But his silence and stoicism borders on cruelty, especially when it comes to his treatment of his suffering son, and his grandchildren.
In fact, all the men in this town are silent. They punch walls, punch each other, but barely talk. But the town that never changes is finally seeing something new. The post-war Italian migrants are bringing new food, new ideas, and perhaps a new way to deal with difficult memories.
One Italian migrant, Maria (played by real life cook, opera singer, and actress Silvia Colloca) ends up hired by Leo to take care of his kids. Colloca is amazing in this role. She lights up the room of any scene she’s in, which is exactly the effect she hopes to have on Leo and his family.
LITTLE TORNADOES is a film put together with love, and an attention to detail. Very Australian, very rural, very working class. It’s a difficult, emotional watch, and will break your heart in the best way. Older viewers may remember the moments of history caught on radio broadcasts throughout the film. And most anyone will know people like Leo, who may not speak that much, but carry their misery on their backs. The filmmakers of LITTLE TORNADOES show just how much misery there can be, but also what to do with it.