REVIEW: If this is Paradise, what is hell?

Neither documentary nor essay, Paradise is a collage of images, instances and impressions captured over a ten year period. Or, just a bunch of stuff. This is really 82 minutes


Directed by Michael Almereyda. 82 mins. On at the ICA

Two stars

Neither documentary nor essay, Paradise is "a collage of images, instances and impressions captured over a ten year period." Or, just a bunch of stuff.

This is really 82 minutes of home movie clips, shot on video over a 10-year period and put together without any narrative, order or explanation. I suppose the theory behind it is that this is a mosaic of fleeting delights and small forgotten instants; a portrait of the richness of life and humanity as contained within inconsequential moments. Of course, if you took out the credits and Harry Hill you could make the same claim for You've Been Framed.

Almereyda is of that 90s shoe gazing school of American indie film maker, someone in the wake of Richard Linklater or Hal Hartley. People from that circle pop up in the film, most notably actress Elena Lowensohn, who was Hartley's usual star as well as being the lead in Almereyda's own Nadia.

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(The famously reclusive director Terrence Malick is among those thanked in the credits, so maybe he's in there somewhere.)

I'm not going to say it was boring but it is definitely uninvolving. It takes some nerve to sling together chunks of home movies and charge people to see it and though he says he and his editors put a lot of thought into how these disparate shots of children playing, people driving, bands performing etc were put together, it doesn't show.

It's the old Tracey Emin's bed conundrum again; if an artist asks you look at something as if it is a piece of art, does that make it art? Maybe, but Paradise feels like a bit of a cheat because just like the Blair Witch Project, the audience has to do most of the work.

It all begs the question if this is what he calls Paradise, what would his idea of Hell be? Because there is so little else to guide us the title becomes all important. If the exact same film had been called Hell would people be writing about how it captures the mind numbing inconsequentiality of existence? Very probably; so if nothing else, you have to respect Almereyda for being a glass-half-full kind of guy.

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