Home Video Hovel- Paraiso, by Sarah Brinks
Paraíso translates to English as paradise or heaven. For people living under Communist rule in Cuba (like the lead character Iván) I can see how the United States could be considered paradise. Keeping that in mind while watching Paraíso could be helpful in trying to make sense out of the irrational, violent, and sometimes bi-polar behavior of Iván played by Adrián Mas. The word paraíso is meaningful to the themes of the movie in a couple of different ways; heaven to one person is hell to another or also one person’s idea of paradise depends greatly on their perspective. Iván’s paraíso changes many times throughout the film and rarely for the best.
The plot of the film is that a young man named Iván gets on a raft with a small group of people in Cuba and they make their way in a homemade raft over ninety miles to Florida. There is a storm and Iván ends up being the only survivor. His biological father in Miami is contacted and takes Ivan in. His father gets him a job working at a hotel. You see how Iván struggles to settle in to his new life in America and keep his old life at bay. An old acquaintance from Havana causes him to get fired from his job at the hotel. However Iván is successful in other ways. He gets a girlfriend, he starts having an affair with a family friend named Alina, and he gets a start at a modeling career. You see how the tiniest bit of success changes Iván. He suddenly starts acting different; he becomes quite a diva and even tries to steal his fathers’ talk radio job.
I think the biggest flaw the film has is that it tries to be too many things. It is the story of an illegal immigrant who struggles with achieving the American dream. It also tries to be a political piece about the state of illegal immigrants in America and the struggles they have fitting into American culture: dealing with capitalism versus communism, what the meaning of “freedom” really is, and the consequences of taking advantage of freedom. It also tries to be a thriller similar to American Psycho without ever really exploring the motivations behind Iván’s violence. During a conversation with another character about his affair with Alina Iván says, “It’s a free country” to which the other character responds, “Not everything is free”. The exploration of that idea could be really interesting but the movie doesn’t seem to trust that it is interesting enough to carry the film.
The film is beautiful but the story is messy. The director, Leon Ichaso, does a nice job of capturing the colors, sounds, and overall vibe of “Cuban Miami”. He also does a nice job of foreshadowing the mind-set of Iván early in the film without really drawing attention to it through the use of black and white photography and flashbacks. There are a couple of scenes that struck me as looking like they were from a cheap Telenovela, but that was mostly due to strange medium shots in awkward scenes and music-video like breaks in the story. The picture quality of the DVD is very good. The subtitles are clear and legible.
The acting in the film is mostly good. Mas struggles towards the end of the film when Iván is at his most manic. Miguel Gutiérrez who plays Remigio, Iván’s father, is the strongest performance in the film. There are several scenes of him doing his radio show alone in a booth throughout the film and he is compelling and believable as he delivers his monologues. Gutiérrez is the opposite of Mas and particularly shines in the final scenes of the film.
Paraíso is a beautiful, competently made film that suffers from an identity crisis. If the film was simply the story of an immigrant trying to find his “paradise” in America after 30 years of living in Cuba with a father he never knew it would have been an interesting film. However, adding in the murder thriller element leaves it ultimately empty. I recommend Paraíso if you are interested in Cuban cinema or if you want to see a strong performance from Miguel Gutiérrez.