“Crash”-like levels of moralizing contrivance bring together characters neatly divided by class, nationality and economics in “The Paradise Suite.” Joost van Ginkel’s second feature (after the promising 2011 “170 Hz,” about two deaf-mute lovers on the run) is a well-intentioned but heavy-handed, diagrammatic snapshot of current Europe, its characters too rigidly defined as exploiting or exploited to have much depth despite their often highly (when not overly) dramatic circumstances. Already selected as the Netherlands’ foreign-language film Oscar entry, the pic will doubtless log considerable fest travel and decent niche sales on the basis of its general political relevancy, polish and strong performances. But critical support will be uneven for a film that too often feels like an uninspired, case-pleading replay of similar recent globe-trotting crisscrossers.
In Bulgaria, aspiring model Jenya (Anjela Nedyalkova) and her mother (Petia Silianova) are thrilled when the former gets a ticket out of their depressing environs via a contracted photo shoot in Amsterdam. Upon arrival, however, the young woman and two more like her are promptly beaten, raped, and forced into prostitution by escaped Serbian war criminal Ivica (Boris Isakovic) and his goons. In her plight she eventually crosses paths with saintly African guest worker Yaya (Issaka Sawadogo), who’s likewise strayed into criminality trying to help other exploited Third World refugees like himself.
Making a contrastingly first-class landing in Amsterdam to perform a Mozart piece for orchestra and chorus is esteemed Swedish conductor Stig (Magnus Krepper). He’s an ill-tempered perfectionist not only in dealing with professional adult musicians, but also his piano-prodigy son, Lukas (Erik Adelow), maintaining a cold emotional distance just when the boy’s bullying at school makes him desperately in need of a caring parent. Middle-aged Bosnian office worker Seka (Jasna Djuricic) drifts into an affair with a friendly colleague, but that scarcely diverts from an obsessive focus on bringing her onetime tormenter Ivica to justice. When not abusing captive women like Jenya, he spends time at a deluxe home with the wife, doting on their new baby — and there will be no prizes handed out for guessing how the convenient hand of screenwriting fate doles out punishment for his crimes against other people’s children.
There’s an inevitable potency to much of this material, dealing as it does head-on with issues like sex trafficking and threatened homelessness. But despite that forcefulness, very little of what transpires in “The Paradise Suite” has the power of surprise, as the character trajectories follow a course that’s predictable from the moment we identify who’s a victim and who’s a victimizer. Van Ginkel handles them all with skill and some restraint in directorial terms. His script, however, takes a more blunt approach, sacrificing nuance for melodrama and a general “Oh, the humanity” tenor that doesn’t quite deliver the profound insight or ironies the film’s somewhat self-important tenor assumes.
Nevertheless, performances are solid down the line, and all tech and design contributions are high-grade.
Toronto Film Review: 'The Paradise Suite'
Reviewed online, San Francisco, Sept. 5, 2015. (In Toronto Film Festival — Discovery.) Running time: 123 MIN.
(Netherlands-Sweden-Bulgaria) A PRPL presentation of a Bastide Films production in co-production with Gotafilm, Kaboal Pictures, and Film i Vast. (International sales: Media Luna New Films, Cologne.) Produced by Ellen Havenith, Jeroen Beker. Co-producers, Olle Wirenhed, Kalinovi Brothers, Jessica Ask.
Directed, written by Joost van Ginkel. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Andreas Lennartsson; editors, Bob Soetekou, Teun Rietveld, Wouter van Luijn, van Ginkel; music, Bram Meindersma, Alexander Doychev; production designer, Gerard Loomans; costume designer, Manon Blom; sound, Antoin Cox; sound designer, Niklas Skarp; re-recording mixers, Skarp, Erik Bjerknes; assistant director, Willem Quarles van Ufford.
Anjela Nedyalkova, Boris Isakovic, Magnus Krepper, Jasna Djuricic, Issaka Sawadogo, Erik Adelow, Dragan Bakema, Petia Silianova, Silviya Petkova, Anna-Maria Nikolaeva, Victoria Koblenko, Eva Rose, Babetida Sadjo, Renout Bussemaker, Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, Raymond Thiry, Kees Scholten, Bas Keuzer, Karlo Severdija, Jeroen Spitzenberger, Andre Dongelmans. (French, Bosnian, English, Swedish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Dutch dialogue)