By Liam Lacey
Visually striking in its black-and-white cinematography, and conceptually novel in its faux-documentary approach, the drama, Paradise, is one of those films that starts promisingly and then feels progressively more misguided as it rolls along.
Directed and co-written by Russian veteran, Andrey Konchalovskiy (2010’s Nutcracker in 3D, a surreally bad movie best/worst remembered for its Nazi rats), Paradise is a melodrama with a Holocaust setting that is undermined by its gimmickry.
It begins in France in 1942, when a woman, Olga (Yuliya Vysotskaya) is placed in prison. A Russian countess, and former Vogue editor, she is being punished for harbouring two Jewish children in her apartment. She’s taken to the office of Vichy police official, Jules (Philippe Duquesne), a pudgy, middle-aged French collaborator, who strikes a deal to give her a break if she returns the next day to have sex with him. Instead, she ends up being sent to an unspecified concentration camp.
There we meet the third protagonist of the story, SS officer, Helmut (Christian Clauss), an educated aristocrat who enjoys Chekhov, Tolstoy and Brahms and, um, Nazi ideology, specifically Hitler's plan to create a "paradise" on earth. Helmut is assigned to reduce corruption in the camp, specifically guards pilfering the possessions taken from the inmates. He runs into Olga, with whom he'd had a flirtation in 1933, when they were both care-free aristocrats. Soon, she has a special job as his personal housekeeper, earning the resentment of other inmates.
Scenes alternate between the interviews with Olga and Helmut, in faux-scratchy documentary footage, and dramatic scenes in glistening tones of Citizen Kane-era cinematography. For all its good intentions, the framing device makes the film seem facile to the point of offense.
Paradise: Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky. Screenplay by Konchalovsky and Elenda Kiseleva. Starring: Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Claus and, Philippe Duquesne, Paradise shows at Cineplex Empress Walk.