Review: Love Serenade at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival Opening Night25 February 2018
Opening night at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival—and what better way to commence the festivities than 1996 Australian classic: Love Serenade? At a festival celebrating the creative contributions of women within the film industry, Love Serenade stands as a landmark due to its all-female creative team. Writer/director Shirley Barrett, producer Jen Chapman, cinematographer Mandy Walker and editor Denise Hartsis have all received widespread recognition with Love Serenade—even winning the prized Caméra d’Or award at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival.
Despite international appeal, the film remains a very distinct snapshot of 90s, outback Australia. Set in the small, sleepy town of Sunray, sisters Dimity (Miranda Otto) and Vicki-Ann’s (Rebecca Frith) lives are shaken up by the arrival of has-been Brisbane radio personality, Ken Sherry (George Shetsov). Providing a much welcomed distraction from the hum-drum of rural life, the women are instantly infatuated by Sherry; obsessed by the prospect of an exciting, all-consuming romance. What follows can only be described as hilarious chaos as the women vie for Kenny’s affection. The film’s deadpan humour pervades throughout the film. From Dimity’s propositions to ‘ease his (Sherry’s) loneliness’, to scenes of Vicki-Ann attempting to win Kerry’s heart through his stomach. It’s all the oxtail stew, beef in black bean sauce and chicken casserole you could dream of!
The film takes an unexpected turn, however, as Dimity realises there’s something just a little… fishy, about Kerry. He has remarkably gill-like slashes beneath his ears, is unusually fascinated by the enormous marlin hanging on the wall and seems all too eager to locate the nearest ocean upon his arrival. Let’s just say there’s more to Sherry than being a sister-playing sleaze bag. While this leaves poor Dimity and Vicki-Ann heartbroken and embittered, rather wonderfully for the viewers sake, they’re also very, very vengeful.
The permeating sensuality of Love Serenade is highlighted by its lush 70s soundtrack. Seamlessly integrated into the film, it perfectly captures the sexual upheaval brought to Sunray by Sherry’s arrival—as well as the dated, daggy nature of the town itself. The reception of the film’s sexual interactions were interesting to witness; the exhalations of disgust and discomfort could not be missed. Sherry bragging that ‘virgins are my specialty’, or the disdain he expressed for ‘women who had been around too much’ were even met with booing from audience members. The film mirrors the period in which it was created—a time and place imbued with a sexual ideology that evidently clashes with more modern-day attitudes.
Despite this, it is clear that Love Serenade still remains significant to many people. The creative team behind the film spoke about it being ‘the backdrop to too many first dates’, a film that many remember ‘as the film of their uni days’. An Australian classic demarcated by its humour, sensuality and at times out-right ridiculousness—Love Serenade deserves to be recognised as a milestone in female-driven cinema. In a time where women’s roles within the film industry are being discussed and scrutinised, now more than ever it is necessary to celebrate the efforts of talented women and empower upcoming female creatives on the global stage.
The Melbourne Women in Film Festival runs 22-25 February.