The film “Paradise” directed by Andrei Konchalovsky was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2016 Academy Awards.
The subject of “Paradise” is the Holocaust, which has been often covered in film and has always been a popular topic at the Oscars. Konchalovsky tried to avoid clichés common in films about the topic. Usually in these pictures the fascists are shown as the absolute evil, and on this background good Nazis who help Jews are depicted, like Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List” and Wilm Hosenfeld in “The Pianist”. Concentration camps show amicable and friendly people. In Paradise, the director showed that fascism is an ideology which seems honorable and moral from the fascist’s point of view. Additionally, concentration camp inmates are not shown as purely perfect individuals.
The main character Olga, Russian aristocrat and member of the French Resistance is shown dealing with complex romantic relations with a French collaborationist and a German Nazi.
Julia Vysotskaya has played in several recent Konchalovsky films and we can highlight her progress; this is definitively her crowning achievement so far in cinema. Her acting is extremely powerful, and it is even difficult to recognize her at first when seeing her with a shaved head. In Olga’s heroic deed there is no exaggerated pathos; her inner conscience tells her that to other people life is more important because for her it has already ended.
The acting of newcomer Christian Clauß deserves attention as he creates a convincing image of a complex man who can be charming and evil at the same time. The male lead character, SS officer Helmut is a multi-faceted character who is sensitive and educated, he enjoys Russian literature and Chekhov is one of his favorite writers. He, even manages to elicit sympathy, especially when he talks about trying to create paradise on Earth.
The black and white cinematography of the film is impressive and helps to recreate the atmosphere of this period in an authentic and believable way; camera angles, composition and lighting are excellent.
For a while Andrei Konchalovsky tried to shoot commercial pictures in Hollywood and in Russia, but his latest film “Paradise” shows that he is far more at home with dramatic art house films, in the manner of the ones with which he began his film career in 1964. “Paradise” has received the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and has a strong chance at receiving the Oscar, which so far has eluded him.
Konchalovsky is a creator of numerous classic films, including The Story of Asya Klyachina and has more than fifty years of experience behind the camera.
His 2014 film “The Postman’s White Nights” also received the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival and it was suggested as a Russian Foreign Picture nominee, however Konchalovsky himself was against this, explaining that the story of a simple postman would not be interesting enough for an American audience. Nevertheless, this year Konchalovsky did not decline his nomination and assuredly this film has a bigger chance of winning, not only because of the topic but also because the picture has professional actors and a compelling plot.