Saving Grace

A homeless girl is befriended by a man who claims to be Jesus Christ in this contrived, awkward Kiwi pic. A borderline-embarrassing mixture of scrunge and religious sentiment, the film lacks an attitude and winds up failing both as a romantic drama and as an offbeat exploration of an eccentric character. International chances look poor.

With:
Grace Kelly Cuthbertson - Kirsty Hamilton
Gerald Hutchinson - Jim Moriarty
Grace's Mother - Denise O'Connell
Doctor - Costa Bodes

A homeless girl is befriended by a man who claims to be Jesus Christ in this contrived, awkward Kiwi pic. A borderline-embarrassing mixture of scrunge and religious sentiment, the film lacks an attitude and winds up failing both as a romantic drama and as an offbeat exploration of an eccentric character. International chances look poor.

Nineteen-year-old Grace Kelly Cuthbertson (Kirsty Hamilton) has been living in a makeshift dwelling at a graveyard since her mother’s death in an auto accident. On a visit to her dole office, the belligerent, glue-sniffing teen is befriended by Gerald Hutchinson (Jim Moriarty), an unemployed carpenter who invites her to stay in his apartment and teaches her how to make furniture. Inevitably, they become lovers.

These preliminaries are handled in a remote, uninvolving fashion, with the material’s theatrical roots clear to see. The actors, especially Moriarty, seem ill-at-ease with the characters they’re portraying. Gerald has a habit of expounding homespun philosophies so frequently that Grace accuses him of being corny. She could be describing the film.

About halfway through, Gerald reveals that he’s actually a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, and he has the scars to prove it. This explains why his kitchen is full of loaves and fishes, and why he can change water into wine. As the film explores increasingly bizarre territory, it’s difficult to decide whether to take these revelations at face value (is Gerald mad, or is he really Jesus?), or to read the events as visions conjured up by a hallucinating Grace.

To make this curious material work onscreen, director Costa Bodes should have taken a much bolder approach. He could have gone for fierce, dark comedy or sharp, Bunuelian satire. But he shows no interest in giving a cinematic twist to this off-the-wall material, and the result is an uneven, stagy film with no particular point of view.

In the technical departments, pic is modest but adequate, though some of the prosthetic effects — for example, when Grace gashes her arm in a suicide attempt — look phony.

Saving Grace

New Zealand

Production: A Kahukura production, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission. Produced by Larry Parr. Directed by Costa Bodes. Screenplay, Duncan Sarkies, based on his play.

Crew: Camera (color), Sean O'Donnell; editor, Mike Horton; music, Plan 9 (David Donaldson, Steve Roche, Janet Roddick); production designer, Rob Outterside, Chris Elliot; sound (Dolby), Brian Shennan; assistant director, Carey J. Carter; casting, Tina Cleary. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 17, 1998. (Also in Montreal Film Festival --- Cinema of Today.) Running time: 87 MIN.

With: Grace Kelly Cuthbertson - Kirsty Hamilton
Gerald Hutchinson - Jim Moriarty
Grace's Mother - Denise O'Connell
Doctor - Costa Bodes

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