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It takes some narrative pushing and pulling to make six separate stories intersect in the final scenes of The Paradise Suite, an over-crafted — but often involving — second feature from talented Dutch writer-director Joost van Ginkel (170HZ). From a privileged child music prodigy to destitute immigrants in search of a better life, the characters embody a variety of contemporary European dramas. Perhaps the point of bringing them all together is to illustrate how all exploitation has a common source, though that might be stretching the point. Certainly the “paradise” of the title rings with irony.
Though there’s nothing in the Dutch-Swedish-Bulgarian co-production that hasn’t been seen before, the acting and direction are vigorous and the film’s moral POV is quite persuasive. Still, audiences may pull away from complex problems that don’t lend themselves to convincing, upbeat endings.
In the most powerfully narrated tale, the vivacious Bulgarian beauty Jenya (Anjela Nedyalkova, seen in Ave), leaves for Amsterdam for what she thinks is going to be a modeling job. Instead she finds herself the prisoner of a ruthless gang of human traffickers lead by Ivica (Boris Isakovic). The scene in which she and two other girls are heartlessly defiled by a trio of men in suits has the shock value of Lukas Moodysson’s heart-breaking study of sexual slavery Lilya 4-Ever. The truly unacceptable thing, which leaves the viewer with many unsettling questions, is how all this could happen in progressive Western Europe. Nothing else in the film comes close to the immediacy of Jenya’s story, electrified by Nedyalkova’s performance as she is transformed from a swinging teenager cocky about her own youth and beauty to a victim without hope.
Ivica, the businessman-pimp, recurs in several different roles. He is a doting over-age Dad who has been taking his infant son around town to show off to his buddies. He’s also a Serbian war criminal whose murderous past has destroyed the life of Seka, a nurse from Bosnia (Jasna Djuricic). Her single-minded quest for revenge is given an original twist in an interlaced story.
The drama of illegal immigrants has already received so much exposure in Euro art films that van Ginkel is hard-pressed to find a new angle to tell the story of an African man living on the fringe. It’s actor Issaka Sawadogo who makes the gentle giant Yaya a character worth caring about. His job harvesting roses is endangered when he commits to helping a woman with two little boys pay her rent. The cruelty with which they are treated is depressingly realistic.
Circumstances conspire to bring the two most exploited characters, Jenya and Yaya, together in the film’s chilling set piece: a surreal sexual performance for patrons of a fancy gentleman’s club. Forced into the position of drooling voyeurs, the audience knows what it’s costing Yaya and Jenya to go through with the show.
The last two characters are a gifted Swedish boy and his famous father. Lukas (Erik Adelow) is the classic poor little rich boy living in luxury with his celebrated musical parents. Mom is an opera singer often away from home and dad Stig (Magnus Krepper) is an orchestra conductor. Mercilessly bullied at school, Lukas is browbeaten at home by his distant, uptight father who demands that he, too, become a driven over-achiever. In his first but not last screen role, young Adelow brings winning wistfulness and vulnerability to the role of the exploited son.
Technical credits are all top notch, with special mention due to Bram Meindersma’s and Alexander Doychev’s excellent background score.
Production companies: PRPL in association with GotaFilm, KaBoAl Pictures, Vast Film
Cast: Anjela Nedyalkova, Issaka Sawadogo, Jasna Djuricic, Boris Isakovic, Erik Adelow, Magnus Krepper
Director, screenwriter: Joost van Winkel
Producers: Ellen Havenith, Jeroen Beker, Olle Wirenhed, Kalinovi Brothers, Jessica Ask
Director of photography: Andreas Lennartson
Production designer: Gerard Loomans
Music: Bram Meindersma, Alexander Doychev
Editors: Bob Soetekouw, Teun Rietveld, Wouter van Luijn
Sales Agent: Media Luna New Films
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