2016 [RUSSIAN]

Drama / War

IMDb Rating 7 10 1776

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by ferguson-6 7 / 10

ready for your interview?

Greetings again from the darkness. Hollywood, and the movie industry as a whole, absorbs a fair amount of criticism for the perceived lack of originality and creativity in this era of remakes and sequels. However, filmmakers also deserve some credit for constantly finding fresh stories associated with The Holocaust and World War II - seemingly endless sources of material for new movies. As Russia's official Oscar Foreign Language entry, this film from director Andrey Konchalovsky (co-written with Elena Kiseleva) offers up three distinct perspectives of the same tumultuous period.

Julia Vysotskaya plays Olga, a former Russian Countess and member of the French resistance. Ms. Vysotskaya is the wife of director Konchalovsky and has a screen presence somewhat reminiscent of Ingrid Bergman with her ability to appear alternatingly tough, loving, sensitive and stubborn. Her character Olga has been arrested for sheltering two Jewish boys. Philippe Duquesne is Jules, the lead detective assigned to Olga's case. His questionable loyalties are accompanied by a weakness of the flesh that is all too common among those in a position of power. Christian Clauss plays Helmut, a nobleman and German SS officer who is emotionally torn between his personal desires and his duty to the cause of his country.

The story is told from the perspective of each character through a blend of flashbacks and interviews. Harsh lighting, stark surroundings, and their respective wardrobes during the interviews appear to show each being held captive as they are interrogated by an entity that remains unheard and unseen. The interviews provide some insight into the characters, but almost seem intent on keeping us off-balance as the film progresses. It's really the flashbacks that are the most interesting and provide the fascinating details for Olga, Jules, and Helmut.

Beautifully filmed in black and white with an excellent use of lighting effects by cinematographer Alexander Simonov, the tangled web of paths intersecting during war time offers some terrific sequences: a father and son on a morning walk, an isolated and guilt-ridden officer in a fog-draped forest, the immediate scavenging after an unexpected prisoner death, the excruciatingly emotional deportation of Jews, and a remarkable sequence involving a meeting with Himmler and Helmut's subsequent mission to audit the concentration camps.

The brief flashes of joy are usually crushed by the weight of despair and bleakness, yet by the end, we believe we know each of these characters – and what motivates them. Director Konchalovsky's film is an unconventional, creative, and ambitious combination of The Holocaust, Germany's quest for perfection, and the greed and daily desperation of those involved. The interviews might not be what you assume, yet cause us to wonder how might our own interview sound while reminding us that, no matter the circumstances, we can always choose to do good.

Reviewed by Zlatikevichius 8 / 10


A metaphor of where our decisions and acts may take us: remembered for the good things we've done (in the Paradise) or totally forgotten.

Reviewed by ncweil 7 / 10

Holocaust drama w sympathetic Nazi, Russian countess, Vichy collaborator

Paradise - a film by Andrei Konchalovsky reviewed by NC Weil

What to make of Paradise? This 2016 collaboration between German and Russian studios, set during WWII and shot in lustrous black and white, gives us a thousand- year-Reich rationale for Nazi policies. We are offered three central characters: Jules, chief of police in Paris - Vichy French, doing the dirty work for the occupiers; Olga, a Russian countess arrested for helping hide Jews in Paris; and Helmut, a Brad-Pitt-handsome young aristocratic German who believes wholeheartedly in the Nazi vision.

Spoiler alert! I'll be discussing the whole film. If you want to see it uninformed, stop reading now.

Jules lives in a grand old house outside the city with his wife and son. In his office an underling reports that the Russian they have been interrogating all night has nothing to say.

"You weren't trying hard enough," Jules scolds.

"I broke his knee with a hammer - he can't walk any more."

"Go back and try harder." The underling leaves the bloody hammer on Jules' desk.

Then Olga, an attractive mid-thirtyish Russian countess, is brought to his office. She eyes that hammer, admits to terror of torture, and offers herself to Jules if he will prevent that. They set an assignation for the next day. But before they can meet, a pair of Resistance fighters execute him.

Olga is sent to a concentration camp.

Helmut sells his ancestral country home and goes to Berlin to petition Himmler for a job with the SS. It's granted. Helmut has tears in his eyes when Himmler gives him an SS ring, instructing him to wear it on the ring finger of his left hand - truly he is wed to the organization: a perfect German: efficient, straight, incorruptible. He is dispatched to a concentration camp to look for profiteering and the like. Soon after arriving, he encounters an old school friend, Dietrich, with whom he studied Russian. Helmut regrets not completing his thesis on Chekhov - the war has put personal lives on hold. Dietrich is going mad from the pressure of what he must see and do, but Helmut has clean hands. He doesn't have to get involved with the horrific business of the concentration camp - he spends his days going through ledgers while the camp commandant attempts to bribe him, to reason with him, to persuade him that any human would do what he does in that situation.

And when Helmut walks through one of the women's barracks, he recognizes Olga, whom he met years before in Italy, when young men and young women with money and free time danced and drank and lounged at a Tuscan villa. He pursued her with letters she never answered. And here she is, a prisoner. He makes her his maid, and they enjoy sweet interludes from the surrounding madness.

Konchalovsky intercuts scenes from their lives with what look like interrogations: each, in a plain white shirt, sits unadorned at a table, confessing to an unseen camera what they did, what they expected, how they reacted to events. The puzzle is why Helmut is made so appealing. The other Nazis at the concentration camp are warped by their duties - whatever humanity they possess is tormenting their dreams, turning them to automatons, sadists, or drunks trying to smother all awareness. But not Helmut. He breezes through his tasks, Himmler's orders like a beacon blinding him to the surrounding madness. When it's time for the escape he has engineered for himself and Olga, he sends Dietrich. He himself dies in the air raids of the arriving Soviet army, but nobly, as a warrior.

Of the three characters questioned in an afterlife, only Olga is invited by the voice of God to ascend. Really? That's Konchalovsky's answer to the Nazi extermination machine? that they don't go to heaven? 'Scuse me while I find a hole to puke in.

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