Paraíso (2013)

Apparently based on a short story by Julieta Arévalo, this Mexican comedydrama takes a close look at the slow disintegration of a relationship.

 

Carmen and Alfredo are a happy young(ish) couple. They have been married for over two years, and are still very much in love. As Alfredo gets the chance to prove himself in a new exciting position at his company, they have to move from their placid suburb of Satélite into Mexico City, and from the get-go Carmen is afraid of the change and is questioning if they are doing the right thing.
The new environment comes as a bit of a culture shock for Carmen. Alfredo is blissfully unaware of it, but the people at the company’s headquarters are much more elegant than them – and judgmental. Both Carmen and Alfredo are very overweight, and while they have always been both healthy and happy, it now seems to be a problem for Carmen, as she is confronted with disapproving looks, with storefronts showcasing elegant dresses she cannot fit into, and with gyms and exercising classes at every corner.
Carmen suddenly becomes very self-conscious and joins some sort of commercially-driven weight control group, led by a one-dimensional, young weirdo who only utters empty platitudes and company slogans. Carmen also nudges the very unwilling Alfredo into joining her on her diet. But as diet, exercise and weight-loss become more and more the focus of their lives, all joy seems to go out of it. And as one of them is far more successful at losing weight than the other, it puts a strain on the relationship which the “slimmer” partner does not realise until it is too late.
Despite the fact that Carmen and Alfredo still have feelings for each other, their relationship seems to have reached a breaking point.

 

 

Paraíso is an entertaining little film, blessed with two great actors in the leading roles (Andrés Almeida and Daniela Rincón). In fact, premise, story and acting are all great, and the same goes for the soundtrack. There are also a number of scenes with really good shot composition. And yet the film fails to achieve full impact. The main reason for that may be that the film loses itself between its dominant dramatic RomCom elements, and its satirical aspects. A RomCom in which all but the two main characters remain marginal and two-dimensional cannot work. For the satirical look at society, on the other hand, and at society’s obsession with exercising and dieting, such marginal characters are sufficient and there is no need for them to be three-dimensional. But the filmmakers do not use the satirical aspects to their full potential – and the fact that the two lead characters are very much stuck in their romantic drama and are not so much part of the satire, compounds that problem.

The minor characters are far more effective in transporting the satirical aspects, like the members of the weight-loss group, especially its leader who is portrayed brilliantly by Luis Gerardo Méndez.

 

Apart from the fact that it sacrifices potential satirical impact in order to stick to a more mainstream RomCom model, Paraíso also has a minor pacing problem, caused in part by a subplot with an additional group of characters that are introduced later on but do not get enough air to breathe.

 

Apart from these somewhat negligible weighting and pacing problems, there is little wrong with the film. As I said, the acting is very good, and that includes the often marginalised supporting roles, such as those taken on by Camila Selser and Daniel Haddad.

 

Adapted and directed by Mariana Chenillo, and co-produced by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, Paraíso is a very well-crafted, good-looking film. But, despite its inventive premise and fresh look at relationships, Paraíso is a bit too middle-of-the-road for my tastes. I can therefore rate it no higher than 6.5 to 7 out of 10, but have to stress that I assume female audiences will (on average) enjoy this film more than me.

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