Thursday, October 5, 2017

Andrei Konchalovsky's unusual view of the Holocaust, PARADISE, opens in theaters

On this past year's shortlist for Best Foreign Language Film, PARADISE, written and directed by noted Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, would have seemed pretty much a sure thing for nomination. Except for one factor. While Holocaust-themed, as well as being one of the better of the many movies to tackle this subject over the past decade, the film has a decidedly religious bent. Not a specific religion, mind you, but a clear belief in the existence of god, nonetheless. This may have been enough to prevent its reaching that final nomination.

As good as it is -- and I do mean very good, in terms of movie-making -- for some people, particularly those who do not possess this religious bent, there will hang over Paradise a sense of fantasy that rather goes against the very idea of the reality of the Holocaust. It also makes the horror of it all -- which Mr. Konchalovsky (shown at left) brings home with remarkable specificity, originality and surprising strength and subtlety -- seem somehow acceptable, since, as a number of religions promise us, there will be that afterlife. Yet scene by scene, the movie is riveting and as it goes along, growing powerful enough -- the more we learn about its three main characters -- to make it finally memorable.

Those characters are a middle aged police officer/family man and Vichy collaborator, played by Philippe Duquesne, above, left; a young, blond, very handsome German nobleman, the near-perfect example of Hitler's "super-race" come to fruition (Christian Clauss, below), who, as an SS officer, is assigned to a concentration camp; and an attractive Russian "Countess-by-marriage" (Yuliya Vysotskaya, shown at center two photos below), whose connections to both men slowly come clear. 

As screenwriter, Konchalovsky alternates often intense and richly-handled narratives scenes with straight-up "interviews" with each of these three main characters. The narratives immediately engage us in their plot-enhancing manner, yet the interviews are equally striking, probing and very intelligently written.

We never see the person who is interviewing our three characters, nor do we hear his questions (we initially assume these interview must be taking place post-war, and we also assume it is a male doing the questioning). But the answers the characters give to the questions show us that each is taking the interview quite seriously, even if some of the answers are self-serving. The answers here are also often probing of the interviewee's inner self/motives.

Paradise is beautifully shot in rich black-and-white (by Aleksandr Simonov) with the aspect ratio an old-fashioned 1.37 : 1, which makes it appears that both the narrative scenes and the interviews (a scene of which is shown above) were shot at the same time in which the film takes place.

The horrors of the Holocaust (above and below) are re-created with surprisingly simplicity and force -- without the need for excessive violence. One scene of a guard simply kicking a prisoner stands-in amazingly well for so much we've already viewed of concentration-camp life, while another scene between our naive German officer and the camp commandant he has come to investigate regales us with horrific information handed out in quiet, staid manner than makes it all the more awful.

As the narrative scenes show our characters slowly unraveling, abetted by the interviews, the ironically titled Paradise builds to an awful and a moving conclusion, with children -- as below, and always the future of society -- figuring in a prominent way.

Overall, TrustMovies found the film a remarkable one and extremely well-done, even if, as a non-believer, he cannot countenance Mr. Konchalovsky's overall viewpoint -- which, it must be said, comes more from a Christian belief-in-an-afterlife standpoint, than from a Jewish one. Yet is the film in any way anti-Semitic? No. In fact, it is yet another fine, if flawed, addition to Holocaust cinema. It never questions the reality or importance of the Holocaust, even as it probes cultures, motives and deeds.

From Film Movement and running a long but never slow 132 minutes, Paradise, after playing various festival venues internationally and here in the U.S., opens theatrically tomorrow, Friday, October 6, in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema; on October 13 at the Cinema Arts Center in Huntington, NY; and on October 20 here in Boca Raton at the Living Room Theaters and in San Francisco at the 4-Star Theater. To view all other playdates for the film, past and present, simply click here and scroll down.

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