This is an unusual story from New Zealand with a magnificent central performance from Maori actor Paratene (best known as the heroine’s grandfather in Whale Rider) .
Paratene plays Arthur, self proclaimed second son of God – “I’m just a relly” he says modestly in the Kiwi manner – who is on a quest to find his soul mate the Queen of Heaven. To the outside world though he’s just one of a group of men with mental health problems who’ve been, as in the UK, “released into the community” and who wander the streets of Auckland during the day, returning at night to the hostel run by the foul mouthed but kindly Bob (Greg Johnson), who looks after his charges like a masculine mother.
As Arthur, Paratene has the role of a lifetime and he seizes the opportunity with gusto and compassion, giving the character a delightful, straightforward, childlike cheerfulness and humour in his conviction regarding his relationship with the Almighty. He also shows great strength in one of the film’s pivotal and very moving sequences – the funeral of one of the men, a paedophile, who has committed suicide rather than submit again to his personal demon, when Arthur preaches his vision of a just and caring world, where everyone receives love and compassion whatever their sins. And in his relationship with the woman he identifies as his Queen of Heaven, unhappily married social worker Margaret (Wiseman), who is yearning for a child, he is touching and gently sexy.
While the film belongs to Arthur, Paratene is supported by an impeccable collection of supporting performances. Johnson as Bob, his collection of down at heel reprobate charges, which includes veteran Kiwi actor Ian Mune and Matthew Chamberlain as the vicar who at first dismisses Arthur as harmlessly mad but then begins to question whether his simple delusion is saner than the mad world in which he lives.
The film was made by the husband and wife team of director Rosemary and writer Mike Riddell, who apart from one prize winning short, have never made a film before. Rosemary has a day job as a District Court judge, with theatre as a lifelong part time occupation. With the help of a dedicated group of New Zealand and UK producers and the continued commitment of Paratene, they have been trying to get this film made for years and have finally succeeded. It was well worth the struggle.
Review by Carol Allen