The Holocaust drama is a genre rarely misunderstood, but also rarely a framework within which a new insight on unspeakable evil is attained. The latest to attempt something somberly artful in representing this era is Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, with the black-and-white, narratively stylized piece “Paradise.”
It starts as a diptych about a fat, well-to-do collaborationist French police chief (Philippe Duquesne) more than willing to use his Vichy power to exchange leniency for sex in dealing with a Russian émigré named Olga (Julia Vysotskaya), arrested for sheltering Jewish children. As their fates initially play out, the movie cuts in confessionals in which the characters, sitting at a table and talking to the camera, narrate their stories from some possibly not-distant future.
The movie then pivots to add a third major figure, German nobleman Helmut (Christian Clauss), an ambitious and idealistic young SS officer at the massive concentration camp where Olga is sent. Once the object of Helmut’s youthful romantic obsession, Olga enters into an obviously fraught rekindling with her ex-flame as the inevitability of the war’s end closes in around them.
Though there is nothing but tastefully wrought acting from Konchalovsky’s actors and clinically beautiful cinematography from Alexander Simonov — working with the boxy Academy aspect ratio of pre-widescreen cinema — “Paradise” and its predictable waltz of suffering, choked consciousness and monstrosity adds little to the problematic subset of camp-themed World War II movies, which feel like nostalgia for hell.
In Russian, German, French and Yiddish with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; Laemmle Town Center 5, Encino