Dutch-born Australian filmmaker Rolf De Heer's blackly comic fable tells the story of a modern-day Candide who's kept in a windowless room by his sexually abusive mother for 35 years, then emerges into a baffling, frustrating world he sees through the eyes of a backward child. Told from birth by his insanely religious Mam (Claire Benito) that the air outside...read more
Dutch-born Australian filmmaker Rolf De Heer's blackly comic fable tells the story of a modern-day Candide who's kept in a windowless room by his sexually abusive mother for 35 years, then emerges into a baffling, frustrating world he sees through the eyes of a backward child. Told from birth by his insanely religious Mam (Claire Benito) that the air outside their filthy apartment is poisoned and Jesus will beat him brainless for any lapse in devotion to the church or his mother, Bubby (Nicholas Hope) spends the first 35 years of his life in claustrophobic squalor, eating roaches, wetting himself and unwittingly tormenting his cat. A visit from his long-lost father, a lapsed, down-at-heels priest (Ralph Cotterill) who never even knew he had a child, opens Bubby's eyes: If his father came from outside without a gas mask, than his beloved Mam has been lying. Having accidentally suffocated his cat with plastic wrap, Bubby deliberately does the same to his awful parents and escapes into the darkness of Port Adelaide, a grim industrial suburb. Singularly ill-prepared to navigate the complicated tangle of interpersonal relationships that appropriately socialized individuals take for granted, Bubby is dependent on the kindness of strangers, some of whom actually are kind, in their own ways. A sympathetic waitress gives him free pizza, a pretty Salvation Army choir singer seduces him and members of a pub band invite him to hoist a few beers and perform with them. Others take advantage of Bubby's ignorance: The traffic cop he insults beats the hell out of him, a group of angry feminists attack him and he's thrown in jail and sexually assaulted. And still others take his off-kilter efforts to mimic and understand the way people around him act as a form of immersive avant-garde art, briefly making Bubby a local performance art star. Bubby eventually finds a place in the world; able to understand the garbled speech of the mentally damaged, he becomes a patient translator at a local clinic and finds love with a blowsy, good-natured nurse (Carmel Johnson) who reminds him of his mother. Filmed in and around Adelaide for less than a million dollars, de Heer's polarizing film is a grab-bag whose tone veers wildly between spastic comedy and brutal nastiness, echoing outsider narratives as diverse as BEING THERE (1979) , THE WILD CHILD (1969), KASPER HAUSER (1993) and Lars von Trier's THE IDIOTS (1998). Barely released in the US, it has achieved a sort of bleak cult status among connoisseurs of outre cinema.