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Two Australian Treatments of Love Serenade Cannes

May 16, 1996

CANNES, France (AP) _ Two first-time Australian directors _ both women _ are charming critics and audiences at the Cannes Film Festival with small, quirky movies on a sizable topic: the ways of the heart.

``Love Serenade″ is about ``a rather seedy kind of love,″ said director Shirley Barratt, 34, hours before her low-budget black comedy premiered to a warm reception.

Even more surprising is ``Love and Other Catastrophes,″ the debut film of 23-year-old Emma-Kate Croghan that has been gathering praise all week in separate screenings.

The United States will see this Cannes discovery late this year or early next, distributed by a division of Twentieth Century Fox.

``Love and Other Catastrophes″ takes an affectionate look at a handful of college students in Melbourne, who fall in and out of one another’s hearts and beds. Its cast will be mostly unknown to non-Australian audiences _ with the possible exception of Matt Day, who had a small part in last year’s ``Muriel’s Wedding.″

``Love Serenade″ features Miranda Otto and Rebecca Frith as Dimity and Vicki-Ann Hurley.

In a dusty town short on men, they are two twentysomething sisters who find themselves competing for the affections of a thrice-divorced Brisbane disc jockey, Ken Sherry (played by George Shevtsov).

A laconic, wiry man with an unusually keen interest in fish, Ken has left the big city behind to start a new life in a rural town called Sunray. ``He’s come to Sunray to heal,″ says Vicki-Ann, hopeful that sex might also be on the menu.

These bright debuts once again focus attention on burgeoning talent from Australia, a country whose film industry seems unusually egalitarian in giving women a chance.

``We have our on-years and our off-years; this has been a really on-year,″ said Croghan, a Melbourne native whose mother, a single parent, is a librarian.

As for the opportunities given to women: ``Maybe it’s because we had some early on and that sort of helped us,″ said Croghan, pointing to Gillian Armstrong (``My Brilliant Career″ and ``Mrs. Soffel″) as a woman director whose success gave a younger generation hope.

``If you see a woman doing it when you’re 13 or 14,″ Croghan said, ``that helps.″

Since then, Jocelyn Moorhouse has forged an international career with films like ``Proof″ and ``How To Make An American Quilt.″

Jan Chapman, producer of ``Love Serenade,″ also produced ``The Piano,″ which was directed by Jane Campion, a New Zealander who has gone on to work internationally. (First seen three years ago at Cannes, ``The Piano″ went on to gross $150 million worldwide.)

Chapman praised a system of filmmaking in Australia whereby ``women can develop alongside men; we can get funding just as easily. There’s nothing patriarchal about it.″

But for the moment, the directors preferred to ponder the intoxicating effects of Cannes, rather than gender issues.

``It’s very overwhelming,″ said Barratt, who is five months pregnant. ``It’s such a crazy old town; we keep getting lost and stuck in traffic.″

Heady though Cannes has been, Croghan won’t be sorry to leave.

``I have a ticket back on Tuesday, but I might go Saturday instead,″ she said. ``I want to go a bit earlier because I want to sleep.″

The 49th Cannes festival, which began May 9, ends Monday.

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