Saving Grace

A feature film based on the stage play by Duncan Sarkies. Duncan wrote the screenplay; I directed, and Larry Parr produced. It was a brave stab at a very tricky subject, but I’d have to say now it’s a work of mixed achievement. The actors I think did an amazing job. Kirsty Hamilton gives it everything as Grace, a homeless girl who gets taken in by an enigmatic carpenter. Jim Moriarty is likewise all commitment as a man with an extraordinary secret. But my directing was too stiff, I struggled to find the lightness of touch the picture needed. The story’s deep ambiguity and irreverence with sacred themes were not assets in a conservative marketplace, and the film failed to find an audience. Perhaps history will be kinder. A 2007 review gave it 5 out of 5 stars!

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“This is Costa Botes’ first feature film, based on a stage play written by Duncan Sarkies. Botes’ direction is subtle and sharp, at times understated, and characterisation is handled with a compassionate eye, creating a place in our hearts for the unfortunate Grace and her would-be saviour. Kirsty Hamilton’s performance as Grace is sublime. Her dialogue and delivery are spot-on; at times I found myself guessing her lines, a tribute more to her skill as an actor and to Sarkies script that to my own ability at prescience that I got them right more often than not. And isn’t it great when you see the city you live in and love portrayed in the moves? Gerald lives in Cuba St, Grace visits the street community under the Terrace bridges, some action happens in the public library. All readily recognisable settings settings to a resident of the harbour city capital.” — Malcolm Hutchinson, Captial Times

“It’s a real pleasure to welcome a New Zealand feature film with style and brains. In director Costa Botes’ debut feature film, the alienated Wellington street-kid Grace is taken in by the unemployed carpenter Gerald who feeds here, gives her a roof, provides pleasant companionship – and then tells her he is Jesus Christ. Saving Graceexplores all the major possibilities of this situation. Gerald could be a benign nutter; or he could be a dangerous nutter; or he could be Jesus Christ. Then again, the whole thing could be a figment of the glue-sniffing street-kid’s imagination. … it hits its stride in its overly fantastic sequences, where Grace’s nightmares and troubled past are sketched in. … Jim Moriarty’s optimistic presence lets us see how he could be mistaken for a messiah. Nice atmospheric use of Wellington locations, too.” — Nicholas Reid, North and South

“Costa Botes, long-time Dominion film critic, director of many short films and co-director of the infamous Forgotten Silver, makes his feature début the hard way with this needling, ambitious two-hander. Saving Graceis written by local playwright Duncan Sarkies (then aged 24), based closely on his highly regarded play, first produced in 1994 at Bats Theatre and subsequently staged to considerable success throughout New Zealand. Grace is a jittery eighteen-year-old streetkid with a chip on her shoulder. She meets Gerald, an unemployed carpenter, at the Social Welfare office. Gerald is twice Grace’s age, a bit cheesy; yet there’s something arresting about him, a hint of the magician. Grace moves into Gerald’s flat, cynically intending to live off him for a while. Instead, mutual curiosity becomes wary mutual respect. Unaccustomed to being taken seriously, Grace opens up to Gerald. With tenderness and insight, he helps repair her shattered self-esteem. For the first time in her life, Grace begins to feel loved and secure. She begins to fall in love with Gerald — and then he tells her that he is Jesus Christ. Is Gerald merely some messianic nut who’s learnt to walk on the bath-water? Is Grace’s saviour simply a figment of her imagination? Or is this indeed the Son of God, alive and on the dole in 90s Wellington? Sarkies and Botes place their bets all ways, creating a troublesome puzzle in which spiritual need and spiritual consolation refuse to fit together. Though the figurative nature of the stage relationship does not always translate comfortably to the movie’s naturalistic setting, there’s no doubting the aspiration or integrity in Botes’ refusal to be daunted by the big questions. — Bill Gosden, New Zealand Film Festival, 1998

“That’s what movies can do best. They can bend reality and explore dreamlike states… I love surrealism, but I’m not into fantasy, as such. I like being on a cusp between what’s solid and what’s not. The same sensibility or balance in Duncan’s writing really attracted me, as theatre critic Denis Welch cleverly pointed out about Sarkies’ work: ‘It’s more ‘realism’ than ‘sur’’.” — Costa Botes


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