'Paradiso': Transylvania Review

Paradiso Poster - P 2014

Paradiso Poster - P 2014

A modest but amusing documentary about Madrid's last adult theater.

Spanish director Omar A. Razzak looks at the Duque de Alba, the last porn cinema in the Spanish capital, in this feature documentary.

CLUJ-NAPOCA -- The last porn cinema in Madrid, the Duque de Alba, gets an elegant and elegiac once-over in Paradiso, from debuting director Omar A. Razzak.

An intimate observational documentary, this film sticks close to the point-of-view of one its habitués, who always seems to be hanging out between the grand staircase and the entrance to the downstairs screening room, with no apparent interest in the films screened inside. Except for some tiny fragments spied through an open door and a few snippets of sound that require no subtitling, Paradiso likewise keeps most of what’s screened at the Duque de Alba off-screen, instead taking an interest in the people that run it and a few of the colorful regulars. The film recently screened in the Cinema: Mon Amour section of the Transylvania International Film Festival in Romania and indeed is a natural for festivals, where cinema history of any kind is treasured. However, this will be a harder sell as a theatrical item beyond Spain, where the film premiered in April.

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The Duque de Alba is a two-screen theater in a residential building with a spacious roof terrace where patrons can chat and have a drink before, after or between screenings (films are shown in a continuous loop). It is run by Rafael Sanchez, a grey-haired and kindly cinephile who continuously passes through the corridors with a spray to keep the air fresh and who likes to decorate the place with film posters of vintage and more recent blockbusters -- a giant head of Ashton Kutcher looks out over the terrace -- as if the Duque were still a regular cinema.

In fact, Sanchez loves to talk non-X rated movies, especially with the lady at the box-office, Luisa Martinez, who’s close to retirement. Their impromptu cinematic banter alone is worth the price of admission, as they talk about Eastwood as a director (“getting better and better”), Roger Moore as Bond (“the worst of them all”) and Meryl Streep (“imagine the career she could’ve had if she’d been not only talented but also pretty”). They clearly love cinema even if their memory is often somewhat hazy -- which makes their conversations even more enjoyable for cine-savvy audiences. One of the regular patrons, Juanito, occasionally joins these freewheeling chats, singing the praises of some of the classics he loves but has often forgotten the title of, such as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

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There are no talking heads or interviews in Paradiso, with Razzak simply following the characters around as they go about their daily business, leaving it up to the audience to piece together an idea of both the cinema and the people that operate and visit it (the film's writing credits go to Razzak and screenwriter Daniel Remon). If anything, the film seems designed to gently upend more clichéd expectations, with the opening shot, for example, showing Rafa closing -- rather than opening -- the cinema at night, something which becomes something of a visual leitmotif as the film unspools. Paradiso was shot over three years but even so, there’s no real sense of time passing, even if Rafa occasionally decks out a table at the entrance with holiday paraphernalia, an act that further underlines his commitment to making the cinema a cozy and welcoming place.

That said, and despite the appearance of a few lovable regulars, such as Juanito or Julian, an elderly gay man with an impeccable sense of dress, the corridors, the terrace and the screening rooms seem quite empty most of the time, though apparently this is not representative of a typical day at the Duque, which reportedly sells between 250 and 350 tickets a day. Since the film itself offers no contextual information, one has to assume that, since quite a few patrons would not agree to be filmed as costumers of a porn theater, a lot of the filming must have been done at times when only a few of the regulars were around, giving the impression the place is always practically empty.

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Even if business is better than the often-empty corridors and seats suggest, the numbers don’t lie: There were 15 porn cinemas in Madrid in 1985 and today, there’s just the Duque. Razzak’s modest but precise film in many ways feels like an elegy, even if the patient’s still breathing. And sometimes breathing heavily.

Production company: Tourmalet Films
Director: Omar A. Razzak
Screenwriters: Omar A. Razzak, Daniel Remon
Producers: Mayi Gutierrez Cobo
Executive producer: Omar A. Razzak
Director of photography: Mikel Saenz de Santa Maria
Editor: Carlos Blas
No rating, 73 minutes