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Cold Fish

Love Serenade
Elise Lockwood

Sister Act: Rebecca Frith (left) and Miranda Otto go fishing for their favorite DJ in Shirley Barrett's 'Love Serenade.'

Australian 'Love Serenade' is all wet

By Richard von Busack

AUSTRALIAN radio DJ Ken Sherry (George Shevtsov) has pulled up stakes and moved to the remote river town of Sunray. As the new morning DJ in the town of approximately 20, he is greeted politely by the locals--"I hope you won't find us too dull and boring, after Brisbane." He settles into a torpid state, spinning '70s-era make-out songs like Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" and "Love Serenade." The latter, from which Shirley Barrett's movie gets its title, is Barry White's musical interpretation of the mating call of the water buffalo. White works his customary aphrodisiac magic, and soon two virginal sisters are vying for Sherry. The glammed-out Vicki-Ann (Rebecca Frith) is the elder; she is a beautician, too, so we know that she's wise in the theories of how to please a man. The gawky younger sister, Dimity (Miranda Otto), has a flat chest but may have a better chance of seducing Sherry with her innocence.

Barrett, who produced The Piano, makes her directing debut. Odd as the film is, it has its antecedents, mostly in the great Beth Henley wave of the late 1980s: Miss Firecracker, Crimes of the Heart, Nobody's Fool. Barrett shares Henley's own easy way with cross-talking relatives, small-town weirdoes and jokes that seem to have sidelines instead of punch lines. But there's a magical-realist aspect too. Sunray is a fisherman's town; the local swamp abounds with big ugly carp large enough to swallow a dog; and it's suggested that the cold-fish Sherry is not just icky, but perhaps icthy.

Love Serenade is sexy, in a crawly sort of way. Dimity is avid for Sherry, but she's so young and girlish that she almost looks not quite pubescent yet. George Shevtsov expresses the sort of self-satisfied remoteness that you do believe would make women itch (the fact that he's aged and ratty-looking doesn't hurt his cold-blooded appeal). The look of Love Serenade is singular as well--the harsh light of the hamlet is filtered through lenses that turn it into a two-tone landscape of rust reds and disappointment-browns. But those who complained of how Children of the Revolution stripped its gears changing from comedy to tragedy will have more grounds for complaints. This fish story turns gothic when Barrett starts searching for a way out of her seemingly insoluble triangle. Ultimately, Love Serenade seems queasy and repressed, and the screwball strangeness fades in the last few reels. Watching Love Serenade is like listening to someone playing a Barry White record so that you can appreciate the ridiculousness of the man's pose--and then, suddenly angered by the music, your host starts up a death-rant about how White's oily music reflects the piggishness of men.

Love Serenade (R; 100 min.), directed and written by Shirley Barrett, photographed by Mandy Walker and starring Miranda Otto, Rebecca Frith and George Shevtsov.

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From the Sept. 4-10, 1997 issue of Metro.

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