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Plot: When Arthur, self-proclaimed son of God, sets off on a mission to find the Queen of Heaven, his world changes.
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There is no such thing as normal
I’m glad I caught this film at Birmingham’s famous Midlands Art Centre a few nights ago. A couple of the film’s producers were on hand to conduct a Q&A. They told us how difficult it was to make the film, not least due to the dreaded ‘f’ word (funding). In the end it took nigh on eight years to be cinematised. The film paints a poignant picture of the perception society has towards people who have the misfortune to be mentally afflicted.
A group of residents, some with mental health problems, others simply destitute, face homelessness because the local council wants their property, on the grounds of overcrowding. When told that this move would lead to the residents being released into the community, the Ponsonby (New Zealand) locals are outraged. They cannot countenance living alongside such unpredictable people.
At the centre of this story is a Maori named Arthur (Rawiri Paratene, most famous for 2002’s ‘Whale Rider’) who insists he is the second son of God. He walks around shoeless, smiling at everyone and high-fiving friends. His mental illness cannot suppress his happiness.
Arthur’s constant state of ecstasy, we learn, is in anticipation of meeting his ‘Queen of Heaven’. This turns out to be Margaret (Sara Wiseman), Arthur’s complete antithesis. Although sane, she couldn’t be unhappier. She is desperately trying to conceive a baby with a husband who prefers real tennis to the bedroom kind.
The film was made on a shoestring and you can tell. But that’s not really a problem. You don’t need a big budget to tell this kind of story. In fact, that might be a distraction. A small production forces the actors to make the film. And they do, particularly Paratene and Wiseman who make us believe in their very unlikely bond.
There’s a sad scene where a brain-damaged character wrestles against himself to avoid abusing two young girls. He knows he can’t control himself, so he commits suicide. That’s mental illness. There are some touching scenes which will nudge, if not move you. Black comedy helps the story greatly. There’s an unpredictable twist, though I would have done without the ‘Being There’ reference. One of the themes seems to be that God works in mysterious ways – but so can people.
We’re forced to contend with the rational argument that afflicted people aren’t abnormal. Disease couldn’t be more natural. I’m willing to bet that we all know someone who has some affliction or other. The variety of diseases and the chance of contracting one during one’s lifetime are mind-blowing. There is no point in disowning someone on the basis of their mental state. I feel the same way about sexuality and all other ways to profile a human.
Films about mental illness are starting to appear at a higher frequency, but it will be some time before they are accepted as readily as any other genre. If there are people out there who still can’t accept vulnerable people like those in this film (and we know there are, otherwise why else was this film made?), I urge them to see this film because it may compel them to see things differently.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
This is an excellent little film, made on a minuscule budget. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. You won’t need to download a five page cheat sheet from Salon to understand it because it’s just about the stuff people do to one another, good and bad, and the serendipity that sometimes results. If you liked the Japanese film Departures or the Italian film Bread and Tulips then you will probably like this. If you’re a child of the Enlightment who wants everything to be explained, with Is dotted and Ts crossed then you may be disappointed because, as this film sets out to demonstrate, some things are just inexplicable.
Original Language en
Runtime 1 hr 41 min (101 min), 1 hr 40 min (100 min) (New Zealand)
Rated Not Rated
Director Rosemary Riddell
Writer Mike Riddell
Actors Rawiri Paratene, Sara Wiseman, Ian Mune
Country New Zealand
Awards 3 wins & 4 nominations
Production Company N/A
Sound Mix Dolby Digital
Aspect Ratio 1.78 : 1 / (high definition)
Film Length N/A
Negative Format N/A
Cinematographic Process N/A
Printed Film Format N/A