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“30 love”: Tennis as erotic thriller

Jacques Barzun once wrote, “Tennis belongs to the individualistic past–a hero, or at most a pair of friends or lovers, against the world.”

“30 love” reveals the tennis professional as Homeric demi-god, the camera shimmering off his cotton-armour, close enough to see through the delicate links of his shirt. A flash of red glints as he flicks his racquet, ready to unleash his serve and destroy the early morning bird song.

We see the service action, hear the retort and, off screen listen to the ball chink off the chain fence. No opponent. Off beat our hero glides into space leading with his Kirk Douglas chin, a hard court Spartacus not deterred by the lack of a Lacoste nemesis stalking the net opposite him.

The camera lingers a little too close for comfort, the delicate footfalls, his golden torso, and the rhythmic flow of his serve, a voyeuristic montage that leaves us uneasy in the Tarkovsky sunlight. Will a player emerge from the clear to challenge our hero and give purpose to his game? His life?

Instead a DVD rests on his towel, “tennis maN” tagged roughly across the fragile silver disc. The plastic artifact cheapens our hero; his purity of form molested by the modern age. An extreme wide shot confirms we are now in Michael Mann territory, a daylight thriller where our hero is suddenly vulnerable; vulnerable but intrigued.

Rollo Wenlock’s stylish short is an ingenious take on the sweaty sexuality inherent in tennis. The orgasmic grunt of a serve is cleverly edited to bring the audience a Lynchian twist on “Hot Rackets” or the iconic “Tennis Girl” poster for the Mac generation. Is our hero being stalked or does he know the smouldering face smirking back at him on his laptop?

“30 love” is a score like second base, nearly home but not quite, sexual conquest in its inception and what every great short film should feel like–foreplay. It could be the way white middle class 30-somethings court each other, at once sexually liberated and inhibited, swinging but stifled.

The last frame is provocative, a partner finally ready to test our hero in the flesh. After all, “Tennis begins with love.” But with what emotion does it end?


Mark Farnsworth

Senior Film Writer Mark Farnsworth teaches Film in East London and is currently working on two screenplays, The Mysteries and Fair Access. He also writes the Oh/Cult section for Brokenshark.co.uk.