Paradise is a quiet, assured, elegantly shot drama of one of history's darkest moments. This World War II picture from Andrei Konchalovsky centers on the intermingled stories of Olga (Julia Vysotskaya), a Russian member of the French Resistance, Jules (Philippe Duquesne) a French Nazi collaborator investigating her case and Helmut (Christian Clauss), a German SS officer who once loved Olga and encounters her again at a concentration camp. The film alternates between flashbacks of various points during the war and confessional scenes of the characters in close-up, recalling directly to the camera the horrors they've seen — and in some cases contributed to. There have, of course, been countless cinematic portrayals of this war, but Konchalovsky sets Paradise apart with his compelling combination of stark close-ups and measured shots framed through doors and windows that feel simultaneously distancing and intimate.
Vysotskaya's performance is particularly intense -- when we see her relaying her memories in close-up, her head is shaved and her face is gaunt -- her gaze practically penetrates the screen. Olga is the heart of the story, and it's tough to watch Helmut's forthright outlining of Nazi beliefs. At times, Paradise feels a bit too mannered -- the aesthetic borders on clinical, which can make finding a foothold in the thorny narrative somewhat difficult. Paradise is most interesting for what it doesn't include: There aren't battle scenes or a melodramatic score. It's one of the most understated depictions of World War II in recent memory, and understatement here is both a gift and a curse. Paradise looks great while being emotionally opaque.
Andrey KonchalovskiyYuliya Vysotskaya, Christian Clauss, Philippe Duquesne, Peter Kurth, Jakob Diehl, Viktor SukhorukovElena Kiseleva, Andrey KonchalovskiyFilm Movement