Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
Calling largely on the donated services of an impressive cast and crew, Rachel Douglas has parlayed Screen Innovations funding into a feature-length panorama of floating life in Wellington. ‘Bored,’ she says, ‘with playing the film financing lottery,’ Douglas, whose short films Purge and Para Racordar have featured in earlier Festivals, left film work in 2000 and took a part-time job as a receptionist in a Wellington massage parlour. Here she not only wrote and produced Blessed, but also found her primary location. Though Blessed’s several storylines range widely around Wellywood, most of its characters pass through this most perfunctory of brothels.
In one way or another all the women in Blessed are trying to keep their heads above water by placing their bodies on the line. Nadine (Jane Donald), a wife and mother, works part-time as an escort to supplement the income of her electrician husband (Colin Hodson). Nadine’s gallant approach to her trade is cruelly tested during a hotel-room call with an out-of-town cinematographer (Matthew Chamberlain). Josephine (Suyin Lai) a photography student, new to the game, is given a few tips by Victoria, a seen-it-all working girl. Christie, a television actress with a restless boyfriend (Edwin Wright), has been cast as a prostitute, and is put through her paces on set by Nadine’s cinematographer client. Brian Sergent plays the owner of the brothel, bluntly business-like and itching to get over to the Wairarapa for a spot of duck-shooting.
Nothing if not ambitious, Douglas cites Short Cuts and Magnolia as precedents for her multi-storied approach. Like them Blessed also summons cosmic forces – not frogs or earthquakes but a dea ex machina – to unite its world-weary, self-preoccupied characters in the author’s embrace. While they ride the lonely city streets, a flying woman with a beatific gaze (Hera Dunleavy) swoops through the skies, witnessing their travails. Bearing an ineffable vision of human happiness that no human on-screen can apprehend, she’s likely to be the device by which this film is judged and remembered.
Her airborne omniscience is doubly conspicuous in a film in which the author herself is already such a distinctive presence. Echoing her own off-screen existence on several levels, Douglas plays an earthbound correlative to the flying woman: Hannah, keeper of the brothel appointment book. The intense wistfulness with which Hannah surveys brothel comings and goings underlines this film’s strange, touching interconnection of disappointment and ambition, hope and dismay. — BG