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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


Jila (Alice Haines), the daughter of a young Aboriginal woman and an Afghan cameleer, grows up on a mission after her mother's death, and is sold for marriage by her father, Shir Mohammed (Sinisa Copic) to Mullah Jalal-Shah (Nico Lathouris). When Johann (Aden Young), the young German boy she met at the mission all those years ago returns, her hopes are lifted that he may free her from the forced marriage.

"Serenades (a title which I take to be heavy with irony) tells a familiar story: a young girl facing a forced marriage to an older man she doesn't love to fulfil cultural and monetary objectives of the father. In this case, the cultural setting is outback Australia in the late 19th century where Afghan cameleers and Aboriginal communities lived side by side in a strange marriage of convenience of their own. The story itself is full of the sort of personal drama that is driven by the hand of fate and demands of circumstance, but the script fails to fully capture its potential, never fully engaging. This is despite some superb picture making by the renowned Russell Boyd, and a typically haunting score by Tabrizi. In her acting debut, Alice Haynes doesn’t always convey the emotional depth we are looking for, and Mojgan Khadem’s direction tends to focus on ambiance ahead of dramatic or character development. The structure of the film tends to weigh it down, beginning with the elaborate telling of the circumstances of Jila's conception, in which the young Aboriginal woman's sexual services are traded by her father for a handgun. Some 17 years later, Jila's own father trades her for the gifts of a Mullah. This is the irony in the title, perhaps, where the men's 'serenades' are nothing more than bartering. But the film's deeper cultural points are the ones that are really worth debating: here are two ancient cultures, Islam and Aboriginal, persevering with customs that by today's enlightened standards are at best primitive. This is a strikingly urgent issue for the whole world, while ethnic conflict rages at each (rounded) corner of the globe. Those who champion the preservation of ethnic and cultural traditions - of all cultures and indiscriminately - might be prodded by this film to consider whether they really want all those ancient rituals kept alive. That, to me, is the film's contribution."
Andrew L. Urban

"Serenades is a very different type of Australian film that recounts an intriguing tale about forbidden love set on a backdrop of culture, religion and tradition. Embracing not only our own aboriginal culture, but adding Middle Eastern and European cultures to the mix, the juxtaposition is bewitching. The set up and premise engage, and there's a strong sense of place. The friendship between the young children is well established and we are enchanted by the little girl with saucer eyes, hair as wild as a tree whose leaves are dancing in the wind. The colours and textures of cultural identities, customs, superstitions and beliefs are as varied as life itself. Russell Boyd's superb cinematography captures remote Australian locations and draws us into a melee of cultures where the exotic collides with the conservative. The opening scenes of camels crossing the desert are quite extraordinary. What astounding creatures camels are, their eyes peering into the camera suspiciously, while their uneven bodies fascinate by their irregularities. Watch out for the scene where the camel is dressed and decorated for the wedding - this is visual exotica to dream about. The crux of the story is about passion, yet there's little passion on display in the story telling. An injection of sensuality would no doubt add texture to many of the emotions on display. Perhaps the structure is in part responsible for this (the story is set over a twenty year period), and the story's resolution could be more satisfying. Instead of taking us deep into the lives of its characters (each of which has great potential), we are kept at arm's length and observe rather than get involved. I wished I felt more empathy with Jila; perhaps that would have made Serenades a more telling and emotionally satisfying experience."
Louise Keller

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CAST: Alice Haines, Aden Young, Sinisa Copic, Billie Brown, Nico Lathouris

DIRECTOR: Mojgan Khadem

PRODUCER: Sandra Levy

SCRIPT: Christine Stevens, Mojgan Khadem (story and screenplay)


EDITOR: Tim Wellburn

MUSIC: Davood A Tabrizi


RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes



VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: October 17, 2001

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