9 August 2012 | jm10701
Surprising love story, completely free of stereotypes
I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I expected to based on other online reviews. There is a good bit of nudity, but not a lot more of Dimitri Durdaine than anybody else, and (in contrast to at least two others, including Stéphane Rideau) none of him that would qualify as "full frontal" - "full side" is more like it, and even those rarely show much except skin. Some other reviews give the impression that he almost never wears clothes and that the camera examines every square inch of his body, neither of which is true at all.
What there IS more of in this movie than most is naked middle-aged and older men, which may bother some people but delights me. Except for Durdaine, all of the naked men in this movie have pot bellies, including Rideau (who's getting comfortably close to middle age himself), which is wonderfully refreshing in an age when only bronzed and hairless gym bodies under 30 ever appear in American gay movies (Can we say BOR-ing?).
Now that nudity's out of the way... There's something I like a lot about Gaël Morel's movies, but I'm not sure what it is. There's something very natural or unpretentious about them, something familiar and almost comforting, regardless of the subject matter. I feel like I'm among friends when I watch his movies. They FEEL good in some mysterious way comparable movies by other directors don't. He has an eye and a style and a language that are quite distinctive but not easy to define; whatever it is, I like it.
Don't let the crime element fool you: Our Paradise is above all else a love story. Vassili (Rideau), a rough, surly, aging hustler who is already in the habit of killing johns who offend him (and many do, since he's getting old and out of shape), finds a kid (Durdaine) beaten unconscious in a cruising park in Paris, takes him home and cares for him. Because the kid looks like an angel and has an angel tattoo in the lower right corner of his abdomen, and since he won't tell his name, Vassili tries "Angel" in various languages; the kid likes Angelo best, so that's who he is from then on. And from then on he is devoted to Vassili. Nothing that happens (and a lot does) shakes his devotion, and that devotion is the heart of this movie.
Angelo is not stupid or a masochist; he doesn't relate to Vassili as slave to master, cub to bear, boy to daddy, or any of the other gay May-December stereotypes. He simply loves Vassili. When Vassili sees that Angelo really does love him and has no desire to find somebody his own age, he relaxes and begins to trust the relationship too. It's lovely. All of their interactions, including several beautiful sex scenes, reinforce the growing strength of their relationship. None of the sex is gratuitous (whatever that means) or forced.
The backdrop for this sweet and tender romance, of course, are Vassili's increasingly rough tricks (since he's no longer young and hot, he has to do kinkier stuff to stay in business), which are depicted in pretty graphic detail, and his habit of killing johns who make wisecracks about his age. Angelo tries to get him to stop the killing, but it becomes obvious he won't, so rather than leave Vassili Angelo stays with him and occasionally helps.
It's really not much different from Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or any of countless other mainstream movies about criminal couples... EXCEPT: this is France, so even the murders are civilized, and (Thank God!) guns never play any part in the movie. (What a relief not once to hear the sound of a gun being fired!) There are no chases, no near escapes, no explosions, none of the noisy, overwrought melodrama that stuffs Hollywood crime movies like fat in a goose's liver. This is a quiet movie, a civilized movie, an intelligent movie. Every murder makes sense because we see them from Vassili's point of view. From the outside he may look like a psychopath, but we see the human being more than the crime; we see a man who is as gentle as a lamb with the (surprisingly many) people he loves and who wipes out the ones who make him unhappy. He's just doing what most of us would LIKE to do.
Even toward the end, when his motives for killing expand, there remains something about everything he does that just feels RIGHT for that character. He does it because he has to. He does it because the ones he kills need to be killed. He has his own moral code, and within that code everything he does is perfectly consistent.
I will emphasize again that Our Paradise is above all a love story, a sweet and surprising love story between a very young man and another nearly twice his age. This movie is about as unconventional as a movie can be - it follows no stereotypes of any genre, and yet it's somehow even more comfortable and familiar than stereotypes are; it's like a gift from an old friend. I don't know of anybody but Morel who can pull off a feat like this with what seems like no effort at all.