“Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump; you may be freeing him from being a camel.” - Gilbert K. Chesterton
Yesterday we watched an Australian film by Mojgan Ghadem, called “Serenades” (2001). It stars Alice Haines, Aden Young, Sinisa Copic, Bille Brown, David Gulpilil and Nick Lathouris. It is set in the late 1800s in the forbidding desert of Central Australia. At that time, camels imported from overseas were the major form of desert transport. To look after them and deal with the business of the transport, a host of Afghan cameleers also came to our shores. These men were used to the desert conditions and camel handling, so they were highly successful in running these camel caravans in the Outback. No women came with the Afghans and this created all sorts of social issues.
The film examines such an issue. On a Christian mission at the edge of the desert, an Afghan cameleer purchases a night with an Australian aboriginal woman by giving her father a pistol to pay for her favours. A girl is born of this one night encounter; a girl whose parents are an Aboriginal mother and an Afghan father. She grows to become a dark skinned, green eyed, beauty. This film is the story of Jila who walks on the razor’s edge of cultures and attempts to balance her life despite a great number of odds against her. She has to deal with conflicting religions, male domination, social stigmatisation and the awakening of love.
The cast do a wonderful job in portraying the emotions of the clashes between the cultures, particularly Alice Haines as Jila and Aden Young as Johann. It is a love story set in an anguished background. It is tenderly directed by Mojgan Khadem. In the words of the publicity for the film: “This is a story of Jila. Conceived against her mother’s will, born between two worlds, abandoned by love, cheated by death, removed from her faith and from her place. Given no choice, no say. All her life men decided how she would live, what she would dream, who she would worship, who she would marry. Yet no husband or lover could comprehend the depth of her passion. No Christian or Muslim could fathom her spirit. Only the landscape could give her comfort. Only the music could serenade her soul.”
The film is earnestly and sensitively made, although it does tend to look a little unpolished here and there. The story unfolds with facility, giving the viewer a great deal of satisfaction. One of the highlights for me was the beautiful music by Davood A. Tabrizi, which set the scene marvellously. If you have a chance, do try and see this film, which despite its shortcomings is a good one to watch.
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