By Emily Schneider
“To whatever measure your heart aches today, to the same measure it will rejoice tomorrow.”
Principal Cast & Crew
Alice Haines .... Jila
Aden Young .... Johann
Sinisa Copic .... Shir Mohammed
Bille Brown .... Pastor Hoffman
David Gulpilil .... Rainman
Nick Lathouris .... Mullah Jalal-Shah (as Nico Lathouris)
Rodney Afif .... Abdullah
Katayla Williams .... Jila (aged 7)
Ben Winsor .... Johann (aged 12)
Directed by Mojgan Khadem
Writing credits by Mojgan Khadem & Christine Stevens
Original Music by Davood A. Tabrizi
Cinematography by Russell Boyd
Film Editing by Tim Wellburn
Casting by Ann Robinson
Production Design by Colin Gibson
Costume Design by Louise McCarthy
Barbara Gibbs .... Line producer
Sandra Levy .... Producer
Credit Southern Star Entertainment Production Company
Films Finance Corporation Australia (FFC) Production Company
South Australian Film Corporation Production Company
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment (2002) (Australia) (VHS)
Southern Star Entertainment Pty. Ltd.
Australia - May 31st, 2001
UK - July 27th, 2001
World premiere at the Perth International Arts Festival on February 5th, 2001.
Video/DVD Release Date October 17th, 2001 (Fox Home Video)
2002 Nominated FCCA Award Best Cinematography by Russell Boyd
AUD 171,984 (Australia) (11 October 2002)
I found a considerable amount of information concerning the film on the internet. A great deal of background information and basics about the film itself were not plentiful; however, information on the director and writer of the film, Mojgan Khadem, were easy to find. This movie has helped her story be known, along with spreading awareness to the adversity and conflicts seen in the history of Australia. In some aspects, Serenades was a controversial movie, involving inter-cultural and inter-religious history. I managed to find two interviews with Mojgan Khadem, one with Richard Phillips and the other with Rachel Kohn. I found the interviews to be very insightful as to why and how Khadem came about writing the script for this movie and her motives behind it. I presume the reason for limited information about Serenades in the web literature is due to the fact that this movie was not very successful and was only released in the UK outside of Australia. It is very in depth and deals with issues not everyone is interested in. The movie itself was of lower income and did not make it big outside of Australia. The Internet Movie Database is the source for most of the basic facts regarding the movie itself.
Internet Movie Database -
Interview with Richard Phillips -
Interview with Rachel Kohn -
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 Australia’s own aboriginal culture, but adding Middle Eastern and European cultures to the mix, the combination is bewitching.
Serenades takes place in 1890, Central Australia. On a Christian mission at the edge of the desert, a girl is born of an Aboriginal mother and an Afghan father. A dark skinned, green eyed, forbidden beauty, she is a reluctant traveler between the worlds of her parents. This is the story of Jila. Conceived against her mother's will, born between worlds, abandoned by love, cheated by death, removed from her faith and from her place.
Soon after the opening scene in Serenades, one of the cameleers, Shir Mohammed, is involved in a sexual relationship with Wanga, an Aboriginal woman, as payment for gambling losses incurred by local Aborigines. While Jila is conceived out of this union, Shir Mohammed, like the countless other Afghan cameleers constantly on the move throughout the outback, does not learn that he has a daughter until some years later.
Jila is raised by Rainman, her Aboriginal grandfather, and in the first phase of her life is taught traditional Dreamtime stories. She also learns to read and write at the Lutheran mission where she becomes best friends with Johann, son of the mission pastor. The childhood friends are separated after the death of both Jila’s mother and grandfather. Shir Mohammed learns that he has a daughter and takes the young girl from the mission and raises her as a Muslim.
The film moves on 10 years and Jila is a young woman attempting to assert her independence from her father's restrictive religious moral code. Shir Mohammed tells Jila that he will determine her life and whom she can marry. As an example of his controlling ways, he tells her, “If I tell you to marry a monkey, you'll say, where are the bananas?” To complicate matters, Johann, Jila's childhood friend, returns from Germany where he had been sent for specialized music training. On his journey back to the mission, he stays at the Afghan settlement and renews his acquaintance with Jila.
Johann and Jila begin to fall for each other but Shir Mohammed has other ideas. He has organized for Jila to marry Mullah Jalal-Shah, the local Muslim priest. An outraged Johann attempts to circumvent this arrangement by offering a higher “bride price”. Shir Mohammed angrily rejects this offer, declaring that he will only allow a Muslim to marry his daughter.
A despondent Johann returns to the mission but finds he is increasingly out of step with its life. Meanwhile Jila, who is about 30 years younger than the mullah, decides to poison herself at the wedding feast rather than marry the priest. But Jila's desperate plans go astray when the mullah accidentally takes the poison and falls seriously ill. Distraught by what she has done, Jila flees the Afghan settlement. The old man recovers and instructs Shir Mohammed to find Jila and return her to the marriage. According to strict Muslim faith, if she has been with another man Shir Mohammed must kill her.
Jila seeks refuge in the Lutheran mission but is turned away by Pastor Hoffman, Johann's authoritarian father, and she heads into the desert. Distraught and disoriented by the conflicting religious demands and afraid that her father will kill her, Jila attempts to find solace in her Aboriginal upbringing. She covers herself with religious markings and begins performing ceremonial dances.
Shir Mohammed tracks her down, however. In one of the film's emotional climaxes, he decides to allow the young woman her freedom, while devising a scheme to fool the mullah into believing she has been killed. At the same time Johann, who has been in conflict with his father, breaks with the mission, denouncing its values. Johann locates Jila and the film concludes with Johann finding Jila in the desert.
The ending allows for the audience to use their imagination as to where the story will actually conclude. Although Johann finds Jila in the desert as she is performing her ceremonial dances, it is not definite that their love will endure the past.
Serenades is a movie filled with emotion, controversy, and culture. Due to the fact that the history involved in this film is a history many Australians aren’t even aware of, the publicity and popularity of it did not skyrocket. I found it quite challenging to gain critical reviews of this film, since it is not among Australia’s most profound films. Two of the reviews that I did find contradicted each other, but I found both of them interesting. The film received a flattering review ahead of its release in an industry publication, Screen International, where critic Frank Hatherley described it as “an international gem." The film was also prided for its exquisite landscape cinematography by Russell Boyd and also for its cross-ethnic soundtrack.
On the other hand, this film was found lacking in some aspects and did not portray the wonderful concept of cultures mixing as best it could. There was so much going on in the movie, yet the scenes felt staged. Inexperience was seen, both of the actors and the director. Religion seems to be the biggest focus in the film, taking away from the true love story unfolding. Jila is either concerned about the religion at hand or which man she is supposed to choose, leaving little room for us to get to know her true identity and her inner thoughts. The plot turns are excessively well telegraphed, allowing for few surprises. To top it off, the final freeze frame leaves the audience hanging, not exactly sure in which direction the two will go.
Some may affiliate the inexperience and lack of success of this film to the director, Mojgan Khadem, it being her first feature film. Along with that, the story itself is one that most Australians aren’t familiar with themselves. 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. With that said, it is hard to gain the full understanding of a film and have a great appreciation for it when the history itself is unknown.
Due to the fact that Serenades encompasses many different aspects of not only the Australian life and culture, but also the Muslim and Aboriginal culture, there is bound to be controversy over the accuracy of it all. The possibility that a 99 minute film will accurately portray these cultures as a whole and even in general is minimal. Unless audiences have a background knowledge of the history behind the Afghan cameleers, the Aboriginal culture and the Lutheran missions, this film will be just that, simply another film. For those who do have an understanding of the history behind this film and what life was really like for those cultures living in the 1890’s, this film gives them reason to argue the poor representation.
Production and Release
Serenades cost $3.7 million Australian dollars to make. More than half the funding came from Australian government's Film Finance Corporation. The rest came from the private Southern Star Company and the South Australian Film Corporation. The Australian distribution rights have been purchased by Palace Films. The filming locations for Serenades are all found in South Australia and are as follows: Flinders Ranges, Leigh Creek, and Nilpena Station. As of the 11th of October, 2002, Serenades brought in $171,984 Australian dollars, which is a substantially small amount of money compared to the amount it cost to make the movie.
History of Director
Mojgan Khadem is the 31-year-old director of Serenades who was born in Iran and lived there until she was 10. Her family was forced to leave the country to escape religious persecution by the Islamic fundamentalist regime. Khadem spent three years in Spain before moving to Australia in 1981. She studied filmmaking at the Australian Film Television and Radio school in Sydney, majoring in directing. After her graduate film Requiem, which won the Certificate of Merit at the Chicago International Film Festival, she made several documentaries. Serenades is her first feature film. She has done work on other films, both before and since Serenades release in 2001. Some of her accomplishments include:
Miscellaneous Crew - filmography
1. Look Both Ways (2005) (continuity)
2. Peaches (2004) (script supervisor)
3. Dope (2003) (continuity) ... aka Shot of Love (Australia: new title)
4. Disappearance (2002) (TV) (continuity)
5. Innocence (2000) (continuity)
6. Strange Planet (1999) (continuity) (script supervisor)
7. Dance Me to My Song (1998) (continuity)
8. Dark City (1998) (script supervisor: second unit)
9. True Love and Chaos (1997) (continuity) (as Mojgan MacNeil)
Khadem’s resume is building up. Her inexperience was seen through Serenades by some, while others continue to pride her for her work. Although her message was sincere, the film did not become a huge success, or even a small one at that. Despite the lack of success, it is an accomplishment she feels proud of for all the history involved and uniqueness of the film.
Critical and Market Horizons
Serenades was not a huge success and is definitely not one of Australia’s top films in any sense. It brought to the surface the realization of what life was like in the 1890’s and the fact that Afghan cameleers were a huge part of helping to civilize central parts of Australia. Besides that, the movie did not do much. Outside of Australia, this film was only released in the UK. Since the storyline and message of the film is unique to Australia and the Australian culture, the expectation of Serenades making it big in another country was not high. This was a risk that Khadem was willing to take when directing a film that engages different cultures, especially those native to their country.
From this film, the idea that Australian culture is not valued enough to become popular in the United States or elsewhere is a little undermining. Also, the fact that Serenades did not even become a huge success in Australia is a bit disturbing. Here is a movie that sheds light into the different cultures and the history of Australia, yet ridiculous comedies make out with more success. Granted one of the main issues is the quality of the film itself. Apart from that, another reason why the film may not have made it to other countries is because the target audience for this film would most likely include people from the same cultures portrayed in the film. To them, the film may hold a deeper meaning. Either way, the value and outlook of Serenades continues to be just another Australian film.
Serenades is a film that encompasses many different traits, reaching out to a number of different audiences. The main genre of this film is drama, but since that genre is so broad, it can be broken down into either a romance film, or as we have seen it, a woman’s film. Some may even go as far as to say it is a religious film, dealing with both the Muslim religion and Christianity.
The main intent of the film was to reveal an epic love story between Jila and Johann. Through the hardships and differences of their religions, their love is meant to rise above and bring them together; however, is love really strong enough to overcome religion? Since Jila is the main character of the film, it also holds characteristics of a woman’s film. It holds a strong female lead and follows her through the trials of being a woman under her father’s strict control.
Serenades is a film embracing the history of true happenings in Australia. It is filled with emotion, passion, and hardship. This film allows the audience into the life of a girl, born of two religions and cultures, trying to find her way back to her true identity. No matter if you consider this a romance or a woman’s film; it is a drama portraying what life was really like for some people back in the 1890’s. The deeper meaning of two cultures and how they intertwine is the true reason for this film. We must embrace that and take it for what it’s worth.
Cinematic Intelligence Agency - http://thecia.com.au/reviews/s/serenades.shtml <https://webmail.uwec.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://thecia.com.au/reviews/s/serenades.shtml>
Creative Spirits - http://www.creativespirits.de/resources/movies/serenades.html <http://www.creativespirits.de/resources/movies/serenades.html>
Holloywood.com - http://www.hollywood.com/movies/detail/id/183995 <http://www.hollywood.com/movies/detail/id/183995>
The Internet Movie Database - http://us.imdb.org <http://us.imdb.org>
O'Regan, Tom, 1996, Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London.
The New York Times - http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=239442 <https://webmail.uwec.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=239442>