Paradise is the Surprising Award-Winning Russian WWII

A still from Paradise (2017)

Written by Cole Wissinger
Originally posted on IndieEntertainmentMagazine.com
October 11, 2017

Paradise is a surprisingly aptly titled Holocaust movie from Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky. It intertwines the stories of Jules, a French officer and Nazi collaborator, Olga, a Russian fashionista but more importantly Nazi resistor, and Helmut, a young up-and-coming SS Officer. Their stories are interspersed with documentary or interrogation style one shots. It truly gives a new lens with which to see a story and time period very well covered in cinema’s history.

We are thrown into the movie immediately with Olga being forced down a long dreary hallway and into a cell. As screaming is heard and desperation is felt the bold title Paradise is blazed onto the screen.

As we as an audience recover from that sudden beginning, we start to spend some time with Jules talking to the camera. He exposits about his life and family and history for what feels like eternity before the camera takes us to actual plot. The tone is set early that this film is in no rush to get anywhere. The runtime is over two hours, with I’d estimate, a third in these interview talking head shots.

We learn that Jules has been assigned Olga’s case. She harbored Jewish children on the run and actively hindered their capture. Jules propositions Olga in exchange for leniency, but nothing comes of it and Olga is shipped off to a concentration camp, where our third leading character has just been put in charge of ‘cleaning up the place.’ It turns out they have a romantic history and Helmut starts to give Olga preferential treatment. This is set in a time near the end of the war, and as the walls start to crumble around them, they have to each examine their ideological differences in order to see a better day.

Ideological differences seems like a soft way to phrase the fact that one of them is a Nazi and the other isn’t. This is where the interview pieces really strengthen the film. Neither Jules nor Helmut do a lot of justifying of their horrific actions, yet they still are able to come across as real characters. The sheer time devoted to their emotions and reflections allows for a deeper understanding of their character; almost as if the audience is conducting the interview.

Still from the 2016 film Paradise.
The black and white tones, along with the aspect ratio, really makes this fit as a period piece.

These interviews are what allow for glue through the movie and the biggest shock at the end of the movie. The whole film is shot in black and white and there are purposeful film bubbles and cuts during the interviews to make them seem like they could have been done in the 40’s.

Also the aspect ratio of the whole movie is more reminiscent of old Hollywood than the panoramic wide angle of today. Everything about the movie puts you in the war in a unique way. There aren’t any epic action scenes or escapes, just people talking about their lives or interacting with one another.

The three main characters are great as well as some other stellar performances from German Ubermensch or Jewish prisoners, but Julia Vysotskaya’s Olga steals the show. Her emotion and confusion as she is bounced from world to world is striking. At the beginning she is a confident and beautiful Russian lady that has always been able to get what she wants.

This is constantly contrasted by her appearance and demeanor in the interview segments. As the movie progresses, we slowly see her becoming the woman she would be. One that is confused and broken, but still automatic in her convictions and morals. All of this conveyed often just between her and the camera.

Paradise juxtaposes the heaven that the Nazis were trying to create for themselves on this world, with the hell they successfully created for others. There is a lot of grey area in this black and white film, but it gives us, the audience, the chance to sit in the judgement seat, across from Helmut, Olga, and Jules.

With that perspective you can walk out of this movie changed how you view others and hopefully how you view yourself on your own personal quest for Paradise.

Take a look at the Wins and Nominations for Paradise on the film festival circuits: Nominations and Wins – Paradise

Check out more WWII films here!