Cultural Film Series serenades

Erin Driscoll

Would you pursue the man your sister has been seeing? This sibling taboo is just one of the many accepted impudences played out in the Australian film “Love Serenade.” Vicki-Ann and Dimity Hurley are sisters living together in the barren town of Sunray, population 20, which is so isolated that apparently no one there has heard of CDs. The dust in this one-horse town is stirred up when Ken Sherry, a well-known radio personality from the big city, moves next door to the Hurley sisters.

Written and directed by feature film newcomer Shirley Barrett, “Love Serenade” is a bizarre comic anti-romance. Each character is quirky, adding tremendously to the film’s wry situational humor. For instance, Dimity is a waitress at the local Chinese restaurant where the owner, Albert Lee, walks around singing “Wichita Lineman” wearing nothing but his birthday suit. Sherry, an Australian Outback Don Juan, has a fish fetish and only plays cheesy ’70s songs about the “act of procreation.” Despite the fact that he’s a sleazy egomaniac who’s been married and divorced three times, both sisters pursue Sherry in hopes of fulfilling their visions of true love.

Through the soundtrack, director Barrett toys with clichéd views of romance. As with several other Australian films from the 1990’s (including “Muriel’s Wedding” and “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”), “Love Serenade” features pop songs of the ’60s and ’70s. In fact, the film title is taken from Barry White’s seductive tune of the same name. Other R&B numbers that show up include “Me and Mrs. Jones,” Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” and another White hit, “Never Gonna Give You Up.” All the song lyrics comment wryly on the on-screen events. For example, when newly-deflowered Dimity rides her bicycle on a seemingly innocent trip home, we are reminded of her new status as the implacable Ken Sherry’s wannabe girlfriend with the lyrics “take off your panties” crooning in the background.

Barrett has claimed that all the songs featured in “Love Serenade” are favorites of hers, and she made the male protagonist a disc jockey just so she could include them. According to Barrett, the songs “create an atmosphere of yearning and desire and longing,” and they are used to comment ironically on the trio’s romantic entanglements.

Although the film won the highly-coveted Camera d’Or Prize for Best First Feature at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, it has not been widely seen in the United States. One reason may be that another Australian film, the blockbuster and Oscar winning, “Shine,” attracted so much attention that year that “Love Serenade” was lost in the shadows.

If you see one movie from the Cultural Film Series this semester, make it “Love Serenade.” In my opinion, it is the best one of the fall lineup. The ironically seductive music, uncanny characters and wacky dialogue — “You’re gonna marry me, you big duffa! — will all make you laugh.

The film will be screened four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 3:30 and 7 p.m. and Monday at 7 p.m. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for all others.

The Monday evening show will offer an introduction about the film as well as a discussion afterward, “Floundering About for Romance,” with guest speaker Paul Swann.

For more information, call the Communication Department at x9-4750, or consult the Cultural Film Series website at