Saturday, February 16, 2013

Straight-to-DVD: Gaël Morel's bizarre but full-frontal gay melodrama, OUR PARADISE

TrustMovies has been a fan of the work of actor/writer/
director Gaël Morel since Full Speed and Three Dancing Slaves (aka Le Clan). What he has enjoyed most is the off-center quality Morel brings to his films, along with the ability to capture reality his way and make it work, tantali-zing us to bring it all together in our own minds. With his new film OUR PARADISE (Notre paradis), Morel has written and directed perhaps his most accessible movie so far in terms of a straight-on plot line that leaves few dots unconnected and little that one's own imagination might have to fill in. And, yes, this does have its drawbacks.

Surely M. Morel, shown at right, has more on his mind than this movie lets on? Perhaps. Or maybe not. What we see before us is a kind of love story between two men, one in his late 30s or early 40s, the other barely out of his teens. They connect in a manner in which the older must help the younger, so that gratitude, leavened with lust, leads to desire and eventually something approaching love. That the older man, Vassili, is played by Stéphane Rideau (below, left, and further below, right) -- a veteran of Morel's earlier work (as well as other films: Come Undone, Ozon's Sitcom, and his 1994 screen debut in Téchiné's Wild Reeds) now nearly 20 years older and still a good actor, highly attractive and sexually alluring -- makes for an easy watch.

The young man, who decides to call himself Angelo, is played by newcomer Dimitri Durdaine (above, right, and below, left), and he makes a great foil -- from  looks to acting chops -- for M. Rideau. When, in one love scene, the older man remarks on the younger's soft skin, I swear you'll imagine that you can feel that peau douce. The two make a lovely pair -- except for one thing: Vassili is a psychopath, who kills the older men with whom he has sex (sometimes without even giving these poor guys a good time).

I'm not dropping much of a spoiler here, as we see this going on from the very first scene. Angelo does not learn of Vassili's modus operandi for a little while, and when he finds out, yes, it does trouble him. He makes his amour promise not to really hurt the fellows with whom they then have threesomes, but, heck, Vassili just can't help himself (one of the results can be seen below).

M. Morel generally does not rub our noses in the blood and guts, but he lets us know pretty clearly what has happened. He also gives up plenty of sex scenes, full-frontal, in twosomes, threesomes (below and further below), and a near foursome.

So the film is indeed a turn-on, and since the performances are, to a man (and woman) quite good, this will not be a case of your watching Our Paradise simply for the sexy bits.

So, then, what's the problem? It is not with Rideau's performance, for the actor creates a character who is welcoming, warm, sexy and caring, so far as Angelo is concerned. Otherwise he's a full-blown narcissist whom you know will turn on anyone he thinks has betrayed him. Unfortunately, betrayal, in his eyes, seems mostly a matter of disagreement.

When an unusual circumstance arises -- in the form of a john who managed to survive Vassili's attack -- the lovers must get out of town. They return to a childhood haunt of the older man, where they meet up with an former friend, played by the ever-effervescent Béatrice Dalle (above and below, and as beautiful and transgressive, if a bit quieter now, as when she played Betty Blue). She lives with her mom and a young son, who takes quite a fancy to his new friends (and they to him).

A visit to Vassili's old (in fact, his first) john, with the little boy in tow and later the kid's mom, brings the movie to its not unexpected close. As I say, most everything here is straight-ahead and on-course. What's missing is both the quirky surprise and full-bodied personality that more complete characterization might provide. We may see all of their outside (and in the case, of young Durdaine, it's quite ample) but of their insides, their mindsets, their histories, we get very little.

While some of the satellites that circle around our twosome are energized and show potential, Vassili and Angelo themselves -- for all the skill of the actors and despite the bizarre, pathological situation at the movie's center -- are not explored nearly fully enough by the screenplay and so remain two-dimensional.

Our Paradise (unrated, in French with English subtitles, and running 100 minutes), from Breaking Glass Pictures' QC Cinema collection, hits the street this Tuesday, February 19, for sale or rental.  I would imagine that streaming and VOD possibilities might transpire at some point soon.

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