Finding A Little Nobility In The Horror: Our Review of ‘Paradise’

Posted in Movies, Theatrical by - November 16, 2017
Finding A Little Nobility In The Horror: Our Review of ‘Paradise’

It is with heavy use of irony that the title Paradise comes up on screen. It does after a guard forces a woman in to prison. But eventually we’ll know why. Or rather, what that word means to that prisoner. Who she is, and who the other people in her life are. We see her again in an interrogation room with her hair chopped off and speaking in her native Russian.

She’s Olga (Julia Vysotskaya), a Russian noblewoman who joined the Resistance in mid-twentieth century France. There are two other people who spend their separate time in that interrogation room. One is Jules (Philippe Duquesne), a Vichy French police officer who interrogated Olga before. Another is Helmut (Christian Clauss). He’s a German who suspended his work on his thesis on Chekhov’s stories to become a Nazi.

While Olga is on screen for most of the film, Jules disappears to make way for Helmut’s entrance. It’s a mind boggling structural decision with mixed results since Helmut is the film’s most compelling character. An actor’s job is to sympathize with its character. Or at least that’s arguably part of it, and Clauss does just that for Helmut. His descriptions of under aged Weimar era sex workers brings that era to a new light.

It also makes us understand his decision to join the SS. Of course there’s that pull from us that want him to be a good German. To turn away from his beliefs. Even Olga wonders why a sensitive book lover ended up as a Nazi. There’s a scene where he describes the bodies of his victims. And it makes it seem that our wishes are coming true. His words, nonetheless, paint a better picture than the flashbacks depicting him.

Paradise to Helmut is one that Germany makes for itself. Jules, on the other hand, talks about his happy marriage and family even if the flashbacks hint otherwise. Olga recounts her fulfilling life as an editor in Vogue before joining the Resistance. She also talks about trying to save two Jewish children and hoping they survive the camp where they reunite.

Director Andrei Konchalovsky films all of this in black and white. The flashback scenes are more crisp while the interrogation room scenes seem like we’re seeing it through broken 8mm. During the flashbacks the action seems to be happening in another room, adding distance to the characters. But sometimes there are scenes with Helmut when windows open inadvertently. As if the horrors of war want to waft into his spaces.

There’s a recent movement within the sub genre of the Holocaust drama to depict well rounded characters. Ones who had lives and loves before and during the war. Paradise is a noble attempt at that in showing the relationship between Helmut and Olga. I only wish that Konchalovsky could juggle his characters better.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.