52nd TIFF Review: “Paradise” by Panagiotis Fafoutis

Panagiotis Fafoutis’ second feature recently screened at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival Competition Section as an open invitation to a party.

Four “couples”, official, unofficial or imaginary, take advantage of the carnival weekend to stake their claim on Paradise, marching to the beat of their own desires.
In his second feature, Panagiotis Fafoutis wisely tackles situations and emotions he knows well, whether it’s the Carnival of Patra, riping through the city like a whirlwind, or partying and romantic relationships. In full control of his material, he directs with absolute confidence lending a heightened sense of reality to the end result. The carnival adds authenticity, not as a colorful backdrop but as an event that mobilizes the entire city and affords people the opportunity to live in another dimension where anything goes.

Each story is solidly built around its characters, instantly drawing you into their dilemmas: Evgenia wants to start over with a younger man her daughter happens to be in love with. Marina flies home from London to tell Michalis she’s serious about their relationship although he’s not ready. Ilias gives himself one more chance to win his ex-wife back, while Nikos is looking for a way to tell Sokratis he has feelings for him.

Each story is self-sufficient, full of people we can relate to, struggling with dilemmas we’ve all had to face before. The use of the carnival is never excessive, and always stays in the background reminding us that going from reality to fantasy is as easy as pulling the mask off your face. The more the characters drink, party and alter their appearance, the more they seem to discover the power of honesty through disguise. Because sometimes, desires resonate louder in the hustle and bustle of a never-ending party.

Unfortunately, contrary to the gradual development of each narrative, the finale is rather lacklustre, if not oversimplified. Marina and Michalis’ story has two or three different endings and Evgenia’s deadlock is resolved with exaggerated ease after all the high drama. And although the film, culminates beautifully, both on an emotional and a screenwriting level, it skips ahead to the day after without any insight on what happened in between. The characters go through hell – and so do we – and suddenly, after a sleepless night drenched in color, everything is over without so much as a word of warning.

It’s possibile this was the director’s intention all along, because parties are usually followed by hangovers and the return to reality isn’t always pretty. But just as an aspirin will make your headache go away, “Paradise” can forgive anything, even a screenwriting landslide, because despite all its weaknesses this film has soul, rhythm and an insatiable appetite for creative disguise.

Watch below an interview with Panagiotis Fafoutis