Juris Poskus’ intermittently hilarious documentary, “But the Hour Is Near,” follows holy rollers Erik Punculis and Daniels Cirulis from the Latvian sticks around capital city Riga and beyond as they attempt to convert followers, sell handbags and win a song contest. DV-shot effort feels a little padded out to feature length but the winning personalities of its subjects, just enough self-aware to be in on the joke but still fanatically earnest, consistently amuse. Pic will answer prayers for docu fests and TV programmers seeking offbeat fare.
Shy, big-bodied Cirulis and runty but handsome Punculis, a classic little-and-large double act, were first discovered by Poskus when they used an interactive video booth to record a musical message preaching Christ’s love to the people of Latvia, a sequence that opens the pic. Duo belongs to evangelical Christian sect “Message of Joy,” which believes God will give you anything you want as long as you pray.
For more material-minded Cirulis, who craves designer clothes and riches, this means calling on Jesus to help him play one-armed bandits in a local bar. The more fanatical Punculis worries about him, warning that such gambling is “not from God.” Helmer revealed during Q&A session at screening caught that, like other episodes in the film, the conflict was deliberately generated for the camera.
Semi-staged, reality-TV aesthetic shines through elsewhere, slightly weakening pic’s integrity as a documentary but upping its comedy value, for example, when the guys partake in a national song contest, winning over crowd and back-up band with their rapped-out title song. (This rousing number later gets played just a bit too often.) Between laughs, the pic obliquely paints a portrait of how poverty and social upheaval have made a fertile ground for such religious sects.
Director Poskus’ resume also includes a docu about New York and Moscow (“110/220”) and another about train drivers who accidentally kill people (“Angels of Death”).
Transfer to film is fair, while thoughtful editing by Francis Vesin and Oskars Poikans gives potentially baggy story a pleasing arc, punctuating sequences with fades to black overlapped by source sound.