“Jupiter’s Wife,” the engaging portrait of a spirited and articulate homeless woman whose stomping ground is New York’s Central Park, is a wonderful piece of sociological detective work in which fate, persistence, the upheaval of the ’60s and the enduring shorthand of Greek mythology all play a role. Suspenseful, strangely heartening account of a fractured and partially mended life world preemed at the Marseilles docu fest and should enjoy a long careeron the fest circuit and in discerning tube slots.
In summery Central Park, a few blocks from where he grew up, one-man filmer Michel Negroponte encounters Maggie, a fit, jovial woman in her mid-40s with a large backpack and half-a-dozen dogs. Helmer records his deepening, almost conspiratorial friendship with his resourceful subject, who projects an aura of well-being and relishes words, puns, linguistic coincidences and etymology.
Maggie, who became homeless in 1986, claims to be the late actor Robert Ryan’s daughter, says she has six children and reports that she receives regular radio transmissions from her hubby, the Greek god Jupiter.
As helmer gradually discovers, there are substantial — if coded — grains of truth in all of Maggie’s matter-of-fact claims. Negroponte eventually deciphers Maggie’s crypto-poetic language, piecing together the itinerary via which she began hearing voices and scrounging for survival.
Although “it can be complicated to visit someone who roams 840 acres,” Negroponte traces Maggie’s fortunes for two years, during which time she braves the coldest December in New York’s recorded history, parts with some of her beloved dogs and achieves a more conventional housing solution.
Filmmaker is an integral part of the proceedings, taking the initiative to investigate the strangely fertile Ryan family connection and to dig up both a Universal newsreel and a segment of “What’s My Line?,” circa 1968, that features 22-year-old Maggie plying her trailblazing trade. (With symbolic prescience worthy of a novel, the show’s host cheerfully asked, “So, Maggie, your future is in Central Park?”)
Helmer’s unwavering respect for his subject contributes to the intriguing but never exploitative tone. Project was originated on Betacam tape for a mere $ 400 and is destined for transfer to 35mm.