A disillusioned biblical scholar finds that getting up close and personal provides real answers to life's questions in "Salvation."

A disillusioned biblical scholar finds that getting up close and personal provides real answers to life’s questions in “Salvation,” a deliberately paced meller from veteran arthouse helmer Paul Cox. Fans of the Dutch-born, Oz-based director will embrace this wholeheartedly, but pic is unlikely to convert any new acolytes. Local release date is currently unconfirmed but, even though Cox has surprised before, commercial prospects look iffy.

HD-shot film premiered on Betacam at the Vladivostok fest, in a nod to the city that appears in flashbacks of a pivotal Russian character. Cox’s company plans a transfer to 35mm, in hopes of unspooling the pic at a higher-profile fest.

Barry (Bruce Myles), an aging, well-to-do Bible scholar and frustrated artist, is emotionally stifled by his sexless marriage to well-known Aussie televangelist Gloria (Wendy Hughes), who peddles a commercial brand of Christianity that rakes in big bucks via self-help merchandising.

To relieve his physical and intellectual frustrations, Barry begins visiting heart-of-gold hooker Irina (Natalia Novakova), a Russian emigree. Hoping to finance a return trip to see her 5-year-old daughter in Vladivostok, Irina is reliant on an aggressive Russian pimp, Anton (Alex Menglet), but comes to appreciate Barry’s mild-mannered support.

Slow-moving narrative freely detours and stalls, giving characters free rein to discuss philosophical issues. Helmer stirs in YouTube samples of President Bush’s public-speaking gaffes in an effort to lighten the mood, as well as to boost the pic’s satire of religious conservatism.

Finale is an unexpected and satisfyingly clever twist that echoes the murderous denouement of Cox’s 1983 international breakout hit, “Man of Flowers.”

Cox’s trademark style — thoughtful but static — sometimes strands his thesps in a quagmire of emotional intensity. Experienced Melbourne-based legit actor Myles is likeable as Barry, though Hughes is overly cartoonish. Novakova is convincing enough as the Russian prostitute. A brief cameo by Barry Humphries as an aging brothel customer adds some compassionate humor to the proceedings.

Tech credits are solid. Cutting by Aden Young, a member of Cox’s acting stable, is good and other credits are pro.

Salvation

Australia

Production

An Illumination Films production. (International sales: Illumination, Melbourne.) Produced, directed, written by Paul Cox.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-Betacam), Ian Jones; editor, Aden Young; music, Paul Grabowsky; production designer, Oliver Streeton, Charlotte Haywood, Asher Bilu; sound (Dolby Digital), James Currie. Reviewed at Vladivostok Film Festival (Special Event), Sept. 16, 2007. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Bruce Myles, Natalia Novakova, Wendy Hughes, Alex Menglet, Barry Humphries. (Russian, English dialogue)
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