Paradise (2016)

Review #1,514

Director:  Andrei Konchalovsky
Cast:  Peter Kurth, Yuliya Vysotskaya, Viktor Sukhorukov 
Plot:  Follows three people whose paths cross during a terrible time of war: Olga, a Russian aristocratic emigrant and member of the French Resistance; Jules, a French collaborator; and Helmut, a high-ranking German SS officer.

Genre:  Drama / War
Awards:  Won Silver Lion - Best Director (Venice)
Runtime:  130 mins
Rating:  PG13 for some coarse language and violence
International Sales:  ARRI Media International

Not very well-received by critics as compared to his previous film, The Postman’s White Nights (2014), Paradise still managed to snag the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice Film Festival, an award Andrei Konchalovsky actually won for the aforementioned film three years ago.  I am one of a handful who thinks that Paradise is a film worth giving a chance, or maybe I just dig films about the Holocaust.  

It is certainly a distinctive film on many accounts: First, it approaches the harrowing subject matter primarily through a structural lens—and perhaps this is what gives the film a sort of distancing effect.  It is not a picture that most people could dive into without feeling somewhat involved.  The key is to watch Paradise not as a conventional narrative as you would with a biopic like Schindler’s List (1993) or The Pianist (2002), but to see it as a triptych of human experiences on a painful historical event.  

Second, in relation to its structure, which most would find unorthodox, Konchalovsky chooses to shape the content out of interviews with three subjects, depicted through talking heads with an unseen interviewer (ala Rashomon).  They are a French collaborator, a high-ranking Nazi officer, and a woman who is part of the French resistance.  The fates of the trio are intertwined, and through flashbacks, we become privy to their experiences and emotions.  

The intercutting between talking heads and flashbacks can be jarring, but if you get used to it, one could glean more insight from Konchalovsky’s process—which is about reconciling with one's deed, however good or evil.  The major misgiving of the film is his distracting use of gimmicky effects during the talking heads sequences that try to mimic, but with shocking artificiality, old film reels running out of film or sound distortions associated with jump cuts.  Moreover, the entire film is shot with a crisp, elegantly-composed look, very much incongruent with the so-called ‘defects’. 

Lastly, Paradise is thematically obtuse as it searches for some kind of grand historical illumination through its chess pieces.  It won’t work for those who find the film pretentious or an arthouse bore, but despite being overly-dramatised, there’s some degree of soul-searching and thought provocation that comes out of experiencing it.  The idea of ‘paradise’, with connotations of racial cleansing and the afterlife, serves Konchalovsky's vision of a world where it only exists in relation to purgatory.      

Verdict:  A unique take on the Holocaust that is elegantly-shot if structurally-unorthodox, but its approach is ultimately thought-provoking despite some missteps.




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