FNE at Venice 2016: Review: Paradise (Russia, Germany)

Written by
Paradise directed by Andrei Konchalovsky Paradise directed by Andrei Konchalovsky

VENICE: Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky returns to Venice with Paradise which screens in competition in Venice.  

As a followup to his previous film The Postman’s White Nights which also screened in Venice several years ago and garnered critical acclaim if not commercial returns the Holocaust drama story of Paradise is more audience accessible although still not likely to be a commercial hit.

Paradise tells the story of three people, Olga played by Julia Vysotskaya, Jules played by Philippe Duquesne and Helmut and played by Christian Clauss, whose paths cross in the devastation of WWII. Olga is a Russian aristocratic émigré who has fled the Russian revolution and is living in France and a member of the French Resistance.  She is arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jewish children and sent to jail where she meets Jules, a French-Nazi collaborator who is assigned to investigate her case. Jules is attracted to the beautiful Olga and offers to go light on her punishment in exchange for sex. Olga agrees, but here respite from the harsh world of Nazi persecution is short-lived when she is shipped off to a concentration camp, and plunged into hell. To her surprise, she in the camp she encounters Helmut who was once madly in love with her and who is now a high-ranking German SS officer.  They re-kindle their old love and embark on a twisted and destructive relationship. We see the origins of this romance in contrasting clips of summer holiday footage with colour and sunlight that makes the cld monochrome of the present world with Helmet and Olga now exist even more horrific. Helmut resolves to rescue Olga and offers her the possibility of escape. But as time passes, and the Nazi defeat looms, Olga’s will develop a new notion of what Paradise means.

Konchalovsky has obviously decided that experimenting with new forms is a major goal at this point in his career.  In The Postman’s White Nights he did this rather successfully with a small camera and shooting scenes himself which he said gave him a freedom that was exhilarating. In Paradise he tries experiments in another direction using the device of docu-drama style testimonies of the characters and a bleak monochrome as a background.  After the Son of Saul the bar for new devices in film that look at the Holocaust has been set rather high and Konchalovsky’s approach is not entirely successful. 

The “paradise” of the title refers to the Nazi dream of an Aryan society that has eliminated Jews, homosexuals and other impure breeds. As we witness the monstrous atrocities of the camp and listen to the testimony of Nazi Helmet who speaks about the Aryan dream we begin to feel that even Helmet does not believe in his own testimony.

Vysotskaya is a formidable actress who has served as Konchalovsky’s muse and formerly his wife through many projects and she is once again an asset to the film.  It is impossible to imagine this complex character played by anyone else.

Konchalovsky has said that he wanted to show that the Nazi atrocities were not just something from the past but that the same kind of radical and hateful thinking exists today.  He says he wanted to show the dangers of hateful rhetoric and the need for mankind to use the power of love to triumph over evil.

Paradise  (Russia, Germany)

Directed by Andrei Konchalovsky

Cast: Julia Vysotskaya, Christian Clauss, Philippe Duquesne, Victor Sukhorukov, Peter Kurt