Paradise – Ray (2016)
Directed by: Andrey Konchalovskiy | 131 minutes | drama, war | Actors: Peter Kurth, Yuliya Vysotskaya, Philippe Duquesne, Viktor Sukhorukov, Jean Denis Römer, Christian Clauss, Ramona Kunze-Libnow, Thomas Darchinger, Irina Demidkina, George Lenz, Jakob Diehl, Caroline Piette, Vera Voronkova, Yaroslav Khimchenko, Anna-Mariya Danilenko, Anastasiya Serovac
‘Paradise’ begins in a French prison in 1942. Two women are violently pushed into a cell. The door closes resolutely behind them. The incarceration is accompanied by so much screaming that the world seems to end on the spot. Then, as the pinnacle of irony, the title of the film appears in bold letters.
Paradise. The Nazis try to legitimize their welfare state through ideology and exclusion. They believe so strongly in that, that everything is allowed to achieve that goal. Including the large-scale mass extermination of Jews, gypsies and dissenters. It is no different for Helmut (Christian Clauss). The German of nobility is a blind stalwart of the Nazi ideology. A man of honor and conscience. Even if he gets a control function at an extermination camp, and experiences the effect of the Holocaust with his own eyes, he continues to believe in his own right.
For another, paradise lies in absolute freedom. Living under occupation equals suffering. And so the Russian Olga (Yuliya Vysotskaya) decides to help Jewish children in France go into hiding. When she is arrested, her life quickly turns into absolute hell. Especially if she ends up in the center of that hell: the German extermination camp. Survival is then all that matters.
A third tried to find paradise in little luck. The enemy no longer seems to have any intention of ever leaving Germany. So French police commander Jules (Philippe Duquesne) realizes that collaboration might be a better idea. He thinks he can continue the energetic life that he leads with his wife and child without any problems. He does not see the fact that he is not so strict with the applicable laws as an obstacle. When he gets the chance to rescue Olga from the concentration camp corridor in exchange for sex, he sees it more as his noble duty than to become aware of the abuse he is essentially committing.
Paradise, however, remains unattainable. Actions are not without consequences, no matter how big or small they are. Collaborating with the enemy is not without consequences for the police commander, if he is shot by the resistance early in ‘Paradise’. And also Olga and Helmut cannot escape their fate, caught in their own motives, actions and burdens. A captivity that does little good for humanity. Although the characters do everything with the best intentions, relief is hard to find in the moody black-and-white ‘Paradise’. Paradise on Earth is nothing more than a castle in the air. Salvation is only in the afterlife.
The tragic fortunes of the main characters are acclaimed by frontally recorded confessions, in which the three reveal their ideas, memories and emotions, as if true confessions at the gates of heaven. Director Andrei Konchalovsky, who won a Silver Lion with the film at the Venice Film Festival, is careful not to turn ‘Paradise’ into a religious film. The confessions are emphatic expressions of film, including scratches in the footage and the sound of a film tape ending. Konchalovsky is the judge of his own characters. It is not for God to judge our past, but for ourselves. And only we can learn the lesson from that.