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:: Serenades

Serenades seems to be the quintessential Australian film. It has multi culturalism, it’s set in the outback with some Aborigines in the background, has a strong female lead, and little chance of a big box office.

Most of the audience would know little about the history of Afghan men coming to Australia to work as cameleers, transporting goods to outback settlements. The men could not bring women from their country with them and so were left to mingle only with those who were also snubbed by Anglo Saxon society- Aborigines and prostitutes. It is a fascinating backdrop for, unfortunately, a somewhat conventional story.

First time feature director Mojgan Khadem seemed to be aiming for an epic romance, kind of The Thorn Birds meets Not Without My Daughter. Played by newcomer Alice Haines, Jila is the product of one night of paid for passion between an Afghan man and an Aboriginal woman. She grows up with her Aboriginal family, spending much of her time at the nearby Lutheran mission, where she meets the son of the missionary, Johann (played as an adult by Aden Young). When her mother dies she is taken to live with her strict Muslim father and Johann goes to Germany. The two are reunited ten years later, but she is now a Muslim and he is a Christian and contact between them is forbidden.

Religion seems to play the bad guy in this film, as everyone save for Johann who is affiliated to a God is cruel and oppressive. Religion is too easy a target however and the characters themselves are the stereotypes of priest and Muslim and Aboriginal elder. However the inscrutability of the lead is the main problem. We are never allowed into Jila’s head, she is either about her religion or her man, and there seems to be nothing else to her.

Many of the scenes felt staged, added to by the inexperience of some of the actors. The plot turns are excessively well telegraphed, so that there were few surprises. I was unsure as to what I was supposed to make of the final freeze frame, and it seemed as though the filmmaker could not find an ending that was quite suitable, so left it for the audience to decide. The different cultures mixing in this foreign land is a wonderful concept but isn’t quite given its due.

Screening at Cinema Como and Brighton Bay Cinema