DVD Review - Our Paradise (Notre Paradis)

Stéphane Rideau (left) and Dimitri Durdaine
in "Our Paradise (Notre Paradis)"
There was a film called Paradise Now (2005) about terrorists in Palestine. The terrorists believe for sincere, religious reasons that they will go to a heavenly paradise through the killing of others. In this film by Gaël Morel, his two main characters similarly believe, not for religious reasons, that they can have a kind of paradise through the killing of others. The paradise isn't as high as heaven, just as high as the mountains of France.

Stéphane Rideau plays Vassili, a 30-something hustler on the streets of Paris. As a hustler, he's essentially a male prostitute. He has sex with men for money. Yet, throughout the movie, he kills his clients, sometimes before or sometimes after having sex with them.

Within the circuit of gay films that are independently made and screened, and only appear at film festivals, there have been numerous stories about male prostitutes. The most popular would probably be the Oscar-winning Midnight Cowboy (1969) with Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991) as a close second. Gay movies about male prostitution have almost become a cliché. A joke of which is made in Q. Allan Brocka's Boy Culture (2006).

In those films, the writers didn't make their protagonist a sociopath. I feel, however, that even if they did, their protagonists would have had actions that made a bit more sense. Vassili kills his clients and it doesn't make any sense because I'm not sure what he gets out of it.

The first client he assaults yields him nothing because afterward Vassili takes nothing, at least nothing that Morel makes explicitly clear. So, the audience asks what was his motivation. It didn't seem to be for the money or even the sex. Later, Vassili espouses some idea about his clients, some prejudice he has toward them like a warped form of jealousy or some prejudice that he believes they have toward him like his age in a kind of extreme version of Andre Khabbazi's character in Dirk Shafer's Circuit (2001). Morel keeps it vague, which makes it difficult to understand Vassili.

Gaël Morel and Stéphane Rideau co-starred in the highly-acclaimed Wild Reeds (Les roseaux sauvages). Since then, Morel has directed Rideau in two other films Full Speed (1996) and Three Dancing Slaves (2004). This film would be their fourth collaboration or fourth time working together, so the two probably have a short-hand. This short-hand probably helps their working relationship, but it also might have caused some things to be overlooked.

Dimitri Durdaine plays Angelo, a teenage blonde who Vassili finds lying unconscious in the woods of the Bois de Boulogne, a park that is twice as large as New York City's Central Park and is located on Paris' west side with its own amusement park, zoo and other attractions. Angelo isn't even the blonde's real name. It's the name that Vassili gives based on a tattoo on the blonde's pelvic area and also based on the blonde's unwillingness to give any details about his life. It's not as if Angelo suffers from amnesia. He merely is this clay that almost resembles Vassili from a psychological sense who Vassili is easily able to absorb and mold.

When it comes to that absorbing and molding, Morel wastes little time. He makes Angelo almost instantly okay with Vassili being a killer. It's not like the situation between Charlize Theron and Christina Ricci in Monster (2003). It doesn't take much for Angelo to become complicit in Vassili's crimes. We assume that it's due to this great love that has blossomed in the two days or so that the pair have known each other, but it's not enough.

Later, in the film, a little boy also named Vassili is introduced. The little boy asks Vassili and Angelo to prove their love and initially even the little boy isn't convinced. While it would have helped to have Angelo's feelings fleshed out and have his inkling of doubt over Vassili's killing spree addressed and utilized more, the final conflict and even the final shot feel meaningless. Morel instead involves this little boy for reasons that were totally unnecessary.

The final twenty minutes should have been about Vassili and Angelo's relationship but there's no real threat to it, no challenge. Morel seems too content to revel in his character's sociopathy. In that way, it's quite sadistic. More characters that Morel introduces in that final twenty minutes, Victor, played by Didier Flamand, and, Kamel, played by Malik Issolah, aren't written very well in that they're given actions that also make no sense.

Kamel figures that Vassili and Angelo are dangerous, so he leaves, but Morel has him come back for no reason given. Victor who chases after Kamel because he apparently loves him cheats on Kamel in the very next scene and Morel gives us no reason why.

One Star out of Five.
Not Rated but contains graphic sexuality and nudity.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 36 mins.


Popular Posts