Sis­ters frocked up in Rome make for frills

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IT’S lo­cal fash­ion leg­end that Perth­born An­glo- Poly­ne­sian cat­walk and ad­ver­tis­ing model Me­gan Gale got her big break do­ing mo­bile phone com­mer­cials in Italy, cat­a­pult­ing her — if that is the right word — to be­come the face of a lead­ing de­part­ment store.

Neil Hansen has had no such luck since re­turn­ing from Rome 14 years ago af­ter a long stint liv­ing la dolce vita . But af­ter train­ing as a land­scape gar­dener, he may not have wanted it. Af­ter all, he was, for more than a decade, more fa­mous than Gale.

Af­ter try­ing his luck act­ing in Lon­don, the hand­some young blond washed up in Venice and from there it was on to Rome and ap­pear­ances in some rather raunchy Ital­ian flicks, one filmed in the Caribbean.

Hansen had his sights set on be­ing a ma­cho lead­ing man but ended up as one of a trio of drag queens known as the Flag Sis­ters ( Le Sorelle Bandiera). His co­horts were Ital­ian Mauro Bronchi and Mex­i­can Tito Le Duc.

It was Rome in the 1970s, the Rome of leg­endary film­mak­ers Fed­erico Fellini and Luchino Vis­conti, and folks were seek­ing some es­capism from the mur­der­ous ter­ror cam­paign of the Red Brigades.

The fairly whole­some bur­lesque of the Flag Sis­ters, honed in the gay bars of Rome, be­came an un­likely hit for all the fam­ily on Ital­ian television. End­less tours, hit sin­gles and films fol­lowed. Th­ese in­cluded a provoca­tive satire on the Vat­i­can, Il Pap’ Oc­chio , which was banned for 20 years in Italy.

Clearly men in frilly frocks are not as sub­ver­sive as any satire on those other men in frocks.

This doc­u­men­tary takes Hansen back to Italy on the 30th an­niver­sary of the birth of the Sis­ters, to meet old friends and re­trace the steps that led to his un­ex­pected fame.

It’s de­light­ful. Hansen comes across as lik­able and sur­pris­ingly straight­for­ward for some­one who spent so many years liv­ing the high life. Maybe Perth can do that to a per­son.

What helps make this doc­u­men­tary work a treat is the seem­ingly end­less footage of the times. And there are some nice brushes with fame: Isabella Ros­sellini, Roberto Benigni and Italy’s first trans­gen­der mem­ber of par­lia­ment, Vladimir Lux­u­ria.

If this film ends with a slightly il­lad­vised Priscilla - es­que coda, you will for­give it be­cause it is a such a lovely tale. Aus­tralia is a long way from al­most ev­ery­where. Men and women who set out over­seas in their 20s hope for a big ad­ven­ture. Boy oh boy, did Hansen get his.

Sweet mem­o­ries: The Flag Sis­ters in their prime in the 1970s

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