The Insatiable Moon is a New Zealand feature film starring Maori actor Rawiri Paratene, who previously had a bit part in Whale Rider, Sara Wiseman, Ian Mune and Greg Johnson. I saw it at its UK Cineworld Haymarket, London, première.
Television New Zealand called it "a story of heart and compassion, populated with some truly brilliant performances”.
This could be the next Brokeback Mountain. It is a remarkable movie from the other end of the world. And not just because it has a marvellous soundtrack that invites you to sing along to tunes destined to become classics in their own right. The screenplay combines a mix of pathos, humour and glorious cinematography of Tom Burstyn. There are plenty of sharp and witty one-liners and some excellent performances.
Paratene does a lovely acting job with his wry sense of humour. I laughed and came close to tears.
Directed by Rosemary Riddell and scripted by her husband, Mike, from his novel of the same title, this film sparkles with compassion and intelligence. She told The-Latest: "This took eight years from idea stage to screening and I hope the public make it the success it deserves."
Fascinatingly, Riddell is a district court judge in New Zealand and the writer an ex-Baptist minister at Ponsonby, where the film is set. If the former shows excellent discernment in her casting and direction, then the latter shows perfect restraint from practicing his former profession on celluloid, even though a key scene in the film is set powerfully in a church.
Equally interesting is the fact that the £250,000 budget film was funded by friends and family, in the middle of a recession, and they too showed excellent judgment, since they're sure to make their money back. It is not always thus with so-called crowd-funded films. The excellent cast and crew should also be commended for the work they did on this film, often for little or no money.
A handful of mental patients are kept in a halfway house at Ponsonby by Bob (an excellent Greg Johnson), a man with a mouth like a sewer and a heart of gold. One of his "inmates" is Arthur, who considers himself the second son of God. Some of his reasoning might well bring him into contention for the No 1 spot, but then he has a vision.
Rawiri Paratene, who asked to play the lead role of Arthur after hearing about the script, brings a Lear-like majesty to a complex character who mediates between the living and the dead, the sane and the insane, the criminal and the law-abiding, the artist and the everyman.
In a table-turning interview with a pompous TV journalist, he gently shows her up to be the one who needs therapy, not him.
Mike Riddell said his book was inspired by a real life Arthur, "a lovely, charismatic person". He added: "What I learned was that people on the margins of society are often broken open to reveal great spirituality."
Wittily, Arthur's housemate Norm, an elderly alcoholic, said of him: "He's either the second son of God or as mad as a chook (New Zealand slang for a hen)."
Arthur's race is not referred to in the movie even though there are times when he speaks his native tongue to dramatic effect. I asked him if he thought the film would improve race relations in New Zealand. He said, robustly: "Maoris are the indigenous people of Aotearoa, my country, which was invaded by Europeans and colonised. Whether or not art and culture changes anything is debatable. I hope they do. We are story-tellers and I hope the public find something they can relate to in the film."
In the way he portrayed Arthur, Paratene said he deliberately rejected stereotyping the walk and glazed look of a person with mental health issues despite doing his job as an actor and studying the part he was to play. Paratene told The-Latest: "If this yarn makes you think a little more deeply next time you walk past a street person then it has achieved something important."
In the movie the previously working-class suburb of Ponsonby has gone upmarket, and people don't want to live next to these strange and deranged people, one of whom is a convicted paedophile. These are understandable fears from neighbours and the film deals directly with those concerns and prejudices rather than scorns or, worse, avoids them.
Bob needs money to keep his halfway house going, the estate agents he derides as "vultures" keep knocking at his door to bully him into selling up. Meanwhile, Arthur falls in love with a pretty, unhappily married woman, played gorgeously by Sara Wiseman and they have a brief but romantic affair.
Reviewer Neil Sonnekus said: "This may be a small film - a kind of benevolent One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, if you will - but it is one that has a massive heart and an even clearer mind; one that somehow manages to encapsulate everything that is good (and wrong) about the suburb, country and world in which it is set."
* Insatiable Moon will be on general release in Britain early next year.
Here is a video clip of the film: