52nd Chicago International Film Festival Screening #11: “Ray (Paradise)” (Germany/Russia)

“Paradise” (German/Russia)
Directed by Andrey Konchalovsky

paradise-04_smallSo, as is the expectation for every iteration of the Chicago Film Fest, there exists a feature film about the Shoah (Holocaust for the uninitiated). Last year there was one such film by a first-time director that, deservedly, ended up winning the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (“Son of Saul”). This year’s contribution, while helmed by a long time veteran who previously made one of my favorite films of all time, “Runaway Train”, will not be winning such a prized mantel-piece statuette.

It’s an immense achievement, cinematically speaking. It’s also a really intriguing manner of storytelling – and a new way of telling these stories. The problem is, that the only way to conclude this particular story about this particular part of the Holocaust required the director to make a very specific choice at the end of the film…or, conversely, he could have left it vague. By going with the former, Konchalovsky has made a judgement of his characters that we made for him back in the first act. It is jarring in its predictability; is contradictory, even odd, in what that choice signifies about the universal organizing principles of mankind; and, frankly, seemed a little childish to me. And while the previous two hours are beautifully shot, extremely well-acted and written with a reverential force, all I’m left with is those fifteen seconds at the end.

However, this doesn’t get in the way of some terrific acting and a wonderful score. A quick word about Yuliya (Julia) Vysotskaya, whose is the stand out performance here. She is asked to play an extreme assortment of emotional, circumstantial and relational levels, and she does so with absolutely no evidence of artifice. And Sergey Shustitskiy’s score is dutiful and appropriate to both the story and the emotions evoked by the film.

There are stories told about the Holocaust which act as a reminder…or a microscope, and then there are stories told that announce the verdict of those in the stories. I’d prefer a director let us do that all on our own. Mr. Konchalovsky didn’t think to give us that courtesy.

Written on 10/24/2016

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