A Review of ‘The Serena Variations’: An offbeat musical with a dark tone

A young violinist struggles to deal with the expectations of a hard taskmaster, which sends the former on a completive and surreal journey.

Jul 1, 2024 - 16:15
A Review of ‘The Serena Variations’: An offbeat musical with a dark tone

'The Serena Variations’: An offbeat musical with a dark tone

Cast: Dylan Brown, Renata Friedman, Chance Gabriel, Anastasiia Mazurok, Ellen Mah, Miki Hanta, Jaycee Cardoso, Alex Haywood, Nathan Dezur, Tyler Ben-Amotz

Critic’s Rating: 3.5 Stars out of 5

Director: Warren Andrew Fischer

Duration: 29 minutes

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Musical, Short

Language: English

Release: 2024

What’s it about? 

A young violinist struggles to deal with the expectations of a hard taskmaster, which sends the former on a completive and surreal journey.

Review: 

This most unusual Short explores the passion, torment, diligence and magic behind performing a challenging piece of classical music. Straddling the genres of the Musical and Thriller, this original little film is alternately intriguing and confusing but consistently enigmatic. The Serena Variations draws from the approach of ancient western cultures in conceptualising music as well as how the same has inspired more recent maestros into developing works of their own. The often surreal and unconventional narrative also questions to what extent mentors are willing to go toward getting their pupils to excel.

The protagonist Serena (Dylan Brown) is a violinist with an unorthodox perspective on making her instrument sing. It is clear that she has a love affair with the item and has a fair understanding of the nuances involved in playing it competently. But her teacher Ann (Renata Friedman) doesn’t feel that such skill is adequate and is determined to push Serena and her fellow-students in a most unconventional way. The accomplished musician and conductor serves up a mysterious “brew” which sends the youngsters on a psychedelic trip. Ann has apparently taken a leaf out of the Greeks’ book, believing that music is “not created”, but rather “already exists” and needs to be “found”.

While the “catalyst” appears to take effect on one student – Allen (Chance Gabriel), Serena is disoriented and withdraws prematurely. However, can she completely shake off the power of the hallucinogenic? In a surreal daze, the ambitious violinist contemplates the myth of Daphnis and Chloe. These were two shepherds, the latter of whom sings so beautifully that during an altercation, she undergoes a magical transformation. Such a story was the inspiration for an opus by French composer Maurice Ravel, which was not particularly well received by the public. This stirs up parallels in Serena’s mind between the relationships of her mother and herself and the reciprocity between the singer of lullabies and the listener.

Serena rationalises that she has a gift that she works hard at perfecting. But is this enough with a demanding Ann as the recipient? Even with the difficult experiences of her musical idols as her inspiration, Serena still strives for the appreciation of her fastidious guide. Does she need internal reassurance or outwardly stimuli? As mentioned earlier, the narrative can be perplexing at times and the conclusion might leave some viewers scratching their heads. But the mystifying content, the dream-like interludes and interwoven mythical anecdotes is enough to sustain attention. Director Warren Andrew Fischer will keep you wondering whether Serena will surmount the test she’s confronted with. Serena’s variations is far from mono-toned.

Ronak Kotecha Senior Journalist and seasoned content creator with 18-years-experience at channels like Times Now, NewsX, Zoom and Radio City. Now, Rotten Tomatoes accredited global critic for the Times of India and BBC India Correspondent in Dubai. Talk show host at Talk100.3, tune in weekdays at 11 am on talk1003.ae