Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 7:32 am 
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Toughness and love

As this film begins Chirs Rohrlach, a tall, hefty Australian farmer, is herding his sheep with the help of several sheepdogs and his 14-year-old son Kieran. Next we see him carrying the helpless rag-doll body of his wife Rachel from the hospital just after she has delivered a second son in the present time. It seems that 14 years ago, just after Chris proposed to Rachel, who was then pregnant with Kieran, she had a massive stroke that left her quadriplegic. Kieran, like this new baby, was born when she was in that state.

Chris is the main speaker in the film and through him, Rachel. She cannot speak, but she can feel, both emotionally and physically. Hence she can enjoy sex, Chris tells us. Her emotions are quick and basic. Her laughter and crying dominate the film She only survived because she was working in a hospital when she had the stroke. Chris went on with the wedding, obviously, and takes his marriage vows very seriously. He has cared for Rachel. Kieran was a healthy baby. So is the new one. The family faces new problems. A severe drought and the cost of carers who help with Rachel necessitate extra income, and with his best friend, Chris chooses to set up a legal brothel. They build it from scratch and bring in a Madam and two girls. The locals strenuously object, unaware that other illegal "parlours" have functioned in the area all along, but the project goes ahead.

The film focuses on this too. One of the girls allows herself to be filmed directly and is a wonderful, outspoken woman. Rachel has to be brought to the brothel when Chris minds it at night after it's opened, and the girl bonds with Rachel and is lovely with her. Unfortunately the partners' "parlour" doesn't do so well and they realize they are out of their depth and turn it over to the Madam. Eventually it has to close. At the end of the film Chris and his father are doing work on the farm that had been neglected for the past couple of years. It's not quite clear how the financial issues are to be resolved, especially since a title says Chris lost about $200,000 on the brothel.

The heart of the film is the interviews. There are strong ones with both Rachel's parents and Chris's, who are strong and supportive -- also brutally honest, but in a loving way. Rachel's mother admits when she first saw her condition she wished she had died. But Chris's mother says confronting the problem of Rachel has made everyone in the family stronger. There is a memorable interview with Kieran, who is stoical and accepting of his mother's condition. He has never known her any other way. But he weeps when he thinks of the injustice of it. And one of the parents says she no longer believes in God as a result of this. On the other hand, Chris is a force of nature. He makes everybody laugh and approaches everything with a good will that we might all like to emulate, if it didn't seem so far beyond us. He reaches for extraordinary degrees of qualities like patience, courage, good humor, resilience, and love. At times they may be beyond Chris too, as shown by cranky moments when he handles Rachel a bit roughly. But Uberoi doesn't delve into the downsides of what is obviously a remarkable family whose story has something to teach us.

Uberoi partly explained the genesis of this documentary in a Q&A at Quad Cinema, New York, when she said that her brother is Chris's best friend. The person who wanted the film made however, she said, was not Chris but Rachel. Chris is a strong and willing participant, nonetheless. Uberoi, whose husband is Bollywood filmmaker Himman Dhamija, remains unseen and unheard. This is her second film. The first, My Mother India, (2002) also is full of tears, of joy and pain, and concerns Uberoi's own Australian mother and her marriage to her Indian father.

Seen at Quad Cinema February 28, 2011.

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