For some reason I have never quite been able to put my finger on, tennis has rarely been portrayed well on the big screen. The drama-crammed one-on-one nature of the sport should work well but somehow, it rarely does. But perhaps that perception will change now with the release of ‘Playing the Moldovans at Tennis’, the film adaptation of Tony Hawks’ best-selling book of the same name.
For anyone who has not read the book, the film is actually less about tennis itself than it is about Moldova, the landlocked country between Romania and Ukraine, oppressed for 500 years and then left behind after the downfall of Communism. A labour of love, Hawks wrote the screenplay and penned the music for the film, keeping the budget low in an effort to bring in as much money as possible for the charity he set up.
The film begins with Hawks and fellow comedian Stephen Frost (replacing Arthur Smith from the book) discussing how poor the Moldovan football team were which lost 4-0 to England at Wembley. Over a couple of drinks, Frost bets Hawks he could not beat the 11 Moldovan players at tennis and after initial reluctance, Hawks takes up the challenge.
Having already carried a fridge around Ireland (Round Ireland With a Fridge), Hawks thinks it will be easy and sets off for Moldova full of optimism, convinced it will be easy to arrange. Of course, it turns out to be far more difficult than he planned but what begins as a comedy becomes a poignant, enlightening and touching tale.
With the help of his pessimistic, yet hard-working and warm-hearted translator Iulian, played beautifully by Anatol Durbala, Hawks tries to find the starting XI only to encounter mafia thugs, travel difficulties, unusual food, deprivation and poverty, but also incredible warmth in adversity.
There are plenty of funny moments and Hawks can play good tennis – “I was No 2 in Sussex as a junior” he says, but it is his relationship with Iulian, and with the family he stays with in Chisinau, parents Grigore and Dina and children Adrian and Elena, that is the heart of the story.
The bet itself goes down to the wire but I won’t spoil the ending for you – only to say that the loser of the bet ends up standing on a table outside a London pub, singing the Moldovan national anthem wearing nothing more than his birthday suit. You have been warned.
What adds to the poignancy of the film is that Hawks put his own money where his heart was, funding and opening, in 2000, The Hippocrates Children’s Centre, run by Diana Covalciuc, the doctor with whom he lodged, for children with chronic conditions and whose families do not have the money or the ability to look after them full-time.
All proceeds from the film and DVD will go to the centre and you can watch the film, for a small charge, on the following website – www.moldovansmovie.com I would urge you to give it a try – you’ll enjoy it and it’s in a good cause.