Into Paradiso: Film Review

Quirky crime caper-meets-male bonding comedy in Naples’ Sri Lankan community.

Paola Randi's directorial debut, which opened in Italian cinemas, feels like a labor of love.

ROME — There’s a funky scrappiness to Paola Randi’s debut feature that trumps its Swiss-cheese plot, and introduces an artistic flair that’s all too fleeting in the sweetly goofy Into Paradiso. The film feels like a labor of love and even the cast seems like they’re sincerely having fun.

Underneath this small crime caper-buddy picture that’s limited to art house distribution lies a (sometimes forced, sometimes genuine) quirkiness and feel-good sensibility that belongs more to mainstream cinema. With more refined production values, this film might have ventured into both worlds.           

After unexpectedly getting laid off, meek scientist Alfonso (Gianfelice Imparato) looks up an old friend, local two-bit politician Vincenzo (actor-singer Peppe Servillo), hoping to use the connection to land a new job. Vincenzo, on the other hand, sees the perfect schmuck to “deliver a package” in his place, an errand for the neighborhood crime boss he can’t refuse.

Believing the box to be chocolates he’s taking to a university professor, Alfonso witnesses a murder and hides in a rooftop shanty in Naples’ colorful Sri Lankan neighborhood. The shanty is actually being occupied by Gayan (Saman Anthony), a former star of Sri Lankan cricket who’s squandered the fame and money of his youth. Just arrived in Italy, he was duped into thinking the country was a land of opportunity for immigrants by a well-intentioned though misguided cousin, who’s secured Gayan a job as caretaker to an elderly racist woman.

Refusing to be anyone’s servant, Gayan has one week to come up with a thousand euros for a ticket home, or else lose a prestigious sportscasting job he’d thrown over for promises of paradise abroad. In the meantime, Vincenzo ends up bound and gagged by Alfonso in the shanty and the three men have to overcome their initial mistrust of one another and figure out how to resolve their dilemmas.

There’s also a romantic subplot, between Alfonso and Gayan’s cousin Giacinta (Eloma Ran Janz), which like everything else manages to be both silly and endearing.

The criminal farce is full of holes, but this isn’t the kind of film you go to for gritty realism or social exposé. It’s a buddy picture whose sweetest moments are in the small talk between its protagonists, and some unexpected set pieces.

While the overall film relies on a pretty standard visual narrative, Randi mixes in theater, stop-motion animation and a surreal video diorama that come off quite naturally and spontaneously.

More so than do the plot machinations, built on a hard-to-swallow naiveté in both Alfonso and Gayan, in the first half of the story by Randi and his many co-writers, Antonella Antonia Paolini, Luca Infascelli and Chiara Barzini. Even the fumbling Imparato (who gave a career-changing turn as the terrified accountant in Gomorrah) and imposing Anthony give much better performances when they’re not having to play dumb. Meanwhile Servillo hams things up to good effect.

Fausto Mesolella’s snappy score blends electronica, spaghetti western harmonica tunes and Sri Lankan melodies. The end credits are a work of pop art in their own right.

Opened in Italy on Feb. 11
Acaba Produzioni, Cinecitta Luce
Cast: Gianfelice Imparato, Saman Anthony, Peppe Servillo, Eloma Ran Janz, Gianni Ferreri, Shatzi Mosca
Director: Paola Randi
Screenwriters: Antonella Antonia Paolini, Paola Randi, Luca Infascelli, Chiara Barzini
Producer: Fabrizio Mosca
Director of photography: Mario Amura
Production designer: Paki Meduri
Music: Fausto Mesolella
Costume designer: Mariano Tufano
Editor: Gianni Vezzosi
Sales company: Ellipsis
No rating, 104 minutes