Paradise

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Paradise
"With its quirky characterisation and abrupt shifts of tone, this is an odd little film which will delight some viewers and befuddle others."

What happens to people in witness protection? Most of the time, if films bother to depict it at all, they just show us people sitting around in an empty house looking bored and waiting for the bad guys to find them. Davide Del Degan’s film depicts a scenario in which the business of hiding people away has been thought through more thoroughly. When Calogero (Vincenzo Nemolato) witnesses a murder, the Sicilian police send him to a small Alpine town far away from anywhere that the Mafia hold sway. There’s just one problem. They use the same hideaway for the killer he reported on.

With its quirky characterisation and abrupt shifts of tone, this is an odd little film which will delight some viewers and befuddle others. At first Calogero doesn’t seem to take he business of hiding seriously, cheerfully introducing himself to the locals as a Sicilian, and as he struggles to understand the customs of the village, like the Schuchplattler dance which involves getting slapped in the face, one gets the feeling that this is going to be a fish out of water comedy. Yet even as he forms a tentative romantic connection with a local woman, he’s racked by longing for his girlfriend back home, whose promise to join him may not have been sincere, and for the baby daughter he has never met.

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When Calogero sees the other Sicilian in the village, he’s convinced he is about to be assassinated. There’s comedy built around his paranoia yet we know he could be in genuine danger. An attempt to disguise himself by dyeing his hair leaves him looking like a sheep which has been turned upside down and dipped in turmeric, and makes him even easier to spot. So he goes online to try and identify a method through which he can kill the possible assassin before he is killed himself. He’s no more a killer than the average person. Nothing goes to plan.

This is the kind of village where lazy priests dismiss urgent requests for confession by assuring their parishioners “God has so much to deal with, He won’t even notice if you’re late.” Its log-built houses are small and cramped, the mountain slopes outside wildly beautiful but vast and dangerous. There is nowhere to run. Del Degan builds up the tension but ultimately takes the narrative in unexpected directions. Calogero’s biggest enemies may be his own cowardice and his uneasy conscience.

Nemolato takes the awkward central character and makes him convincing, yet Calogero remains difficult to connect with. He’s a character who fails to fit into the role that life seems to have cast him in, just as Del Degan refuses to let the story fit into an established cinematic mould. The resulting film is patchy and uneven but unexpectedly emotional in places and knowingly ridiculous in others. It’s a bold piece of work which bites off more than it can chew, and it’s likely to win a small number of utterly devoted fans.

Reviewed on: 28 Mar 2020
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A Sicilian slushie vendor is enrolled in a witness protection programme after observing a Mafia killing

Director: Davide Del Degan

Writer: Del Degan, Andrea Magnani

Starring: Vincenzo Nemolato, Giovanni Calcagno, Katarina CasDavide

Year: 2019

Runtime: 85 minutes

Country: Italy, Slovenia

Festivals:

Glasgow 2020

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