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Australia, 1996 (MIFF 1996, Fiction)

Director: Shirley Barrett

The day that Ken Sherry, former king of Brisbane drive-time radio, comes to town is a biggie in the annals of the sleepy Riverina burg of Sunray-at least for sisters Vicki-Ann and Dimity Hurley. While a 40-something, twice divorced, satin-bomber-jacketed loser in a battered eighties coupe may not be every girl's idea of Mr. Right. the Hurley sisters hometown options do seem somewhat limited. When the bourbon throated Barry White wannabe Ken. actually moves in next door(!). all sibling loyalty is abandoned in pursuit of Ken's considerable (and generously shared) affections. Only one thing is certain at this point-it will end in tears. But for whom?

Shirley Barrett's dark but hilarious first feature echoes ever so slightly the satiric shots of Australian suburbia and isolation familiar from PJ Hogan's Muriel's Wedding and lane Campion's Sweetie, sharing the pop sensibility of the former and the bleak vision of the latter. But the final mix is entirely Barrett's own. produced by a painfully insightful understanding of character that on occasions will leave your head spinning Boldly executed in a veritable colour-card of mushrooms, browns and pinks, shot with flair and originality by Mandy Walker (see also: Life) and crowned by four totally remarkable performances, Love Serenade is as quirkily original as the Coen's Fargo. Beneath the seemingly comatose veneer of a small country town,

Barrett subtly suggests that something fishy is going on in Sunray. Where are the girls parents? Are there no other blokes in the town other than Albert the Chinese restaurateur cum nudist? And what exactly did happen between Vicki-Ann's previous boyfriend and that chainsaw?

As the jaded DJ the little known George Shevtsov puts a little ray of sunshine into the town's day, mixing the philosophising of a seventies hippy wall-poster with the come-to bed aural stimulation of his Barry White. New­comer Rebecca Frith as the enterprising mentor, go-getter nineties girl trapped in a seventies town literally gags on her sandwich in nervousness, while Miranda Otto lands the biggest fish of all without even baiting the hook. Her painful Iack of sophistication and experience in matters romantic a tragic counter­point to Ken's tired playboy persona, (TB)

"One influence on the film was re-reading my own girlish diaries We had such a capacity for romanticising relationships that were basically doomed" * Shirley Barrett

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