Paradise (2017)

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Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky
Country: Russia / Germany

Russian veteran Andrei Konchalovsky’s new drama, “Paradise”, centers on three persons whose destinies cross during the World War II. Co-penned by Konchalovsky and Elena Kiseleva, the script follows a mixed structure of fictional account and documentary-style interviewing, with the camera fixed during the first minutes on the self-reliant Jules Michaud (Philippe Duquesne), who, after introducing himself, starts to talk about his wife and his guileless son Emile. Even if he doesn’t seem an evil person, Michaud works in the French Police Department as an informer for Nazi Germany, being responsible for the capture of 80 thousand Jews.
 
Now he has a new case in hands regarding Russian-immigrant Olga (Yuliya Vysotskaya), a member of the French Resistance and fashion editor for Vogue Magazine in Paris. She was arrested for hiding two Jewish children in a friend’s apartment. At Jule’s office, where evidence of physical torment is undeniable, she asks “will you torture me?”. The tone implicit in the counter-question - “do I have a choice?” - made her realize she might have a slight chance if she could use her body. And she wasn’t mistaken because Jules was completely fascinated with her strength and manipulative charm. Unfortunately, the plan is impeded when Jules succumbs to a successful Resistance operation. 

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To this point, the French glamour hadn't worked so well, but the film was going through an intriguing phase. After enticing us to know more about this woman, the attentions veer to a noble German aristocrat and high-ranked SS officer, Helmut zu Axenburg (Christian Clauß), who really prefers a good Chekov reading than chasing people around. Occasionally, he helps some Jews of his neighborhood, preventing them from being taken to concentration camps. Yet, just like his superior and friend, Heinrich Himmler (Viktor Sukhorukov), he believes in the creation of a German paradise, in which he has a brilliant future. That’s why the cruel, fundamentalist officer Krause (Peter Kurth) is so envious of his success. This man is in charge of the German concentration camp where Olga was sent. Unsurprisingly, we learn that Olga and Helmut are not strangers, with the film winding back a few years to a sunny summer day in Tuscany, Italy, when she fell into his arms.

Unable to ignite an emotional fire, the story fades gradually as the limitations of its uneven parts force me to abandon the characters. This ungoverned ship got lost in explanative rumination and trivial details that could have spared the film from that annoying overlong feel. Hence, the impeccably contrasted black and whites set by cinematographer Aleksandr Simonov nothing could do to save it from the wreck. As a matter of fact, the visual aspect becomes what impels us to look at the screen since the periodic interruptions in the narrative flow in order to include the characters’ monologues become a bit tiresome.

Konchalovsky was awarded the Venice Silver Lion but was incapable to give a proper sequence to a few good ideas, allowing both the tedium and the disorganization to circumscribe a plot that brusquely decays half-way.