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Films about addiction are so often crowded with the same images— gritty backgrounds, rage, turbulent mental states conveyed through extreme appearance and behavior. Artificial Paradises, making its North American premiere as an official selection for the World Narrative Competition at the TriBeCa Film Festival later this month, challenges the blueprint on several levels.
Luisa is a 25-year-old woman who escapes the city of San Andres in hopes of also escaping her heroin addiction. On the margin of Veracruz, elevated over the water in a bungalow and surrounded only by hills, livestock and a handful of residents Luisa connects with a simple-minded 50-year-old man named Salomon, who has his own dependency issues with alcohol and marijuana.
The contraposition of a land that is unscathed, uncompromising and so at peace with itself hosting dwellers whose demons are present on many different planes leaves no room for unnecessary embellishment. That quiet works very well throughout Artificial Paradises, written and directed by award-winning documentary filmmaker Yulene Olaizola. It isn’t just the quiet of the ocean and the hills and the creatures, but of the people. The dialogue is scarce and poignant, lacking in judgment or assumptions, omitting explanations and allowing honesty to surface.
That minimalism is executed to realization by actors Luisa Pardo and Salomon Hernandez, letting us see their characters as people and not just reflections of their addictions. We see that Luisa is kind-hearted, open and transparent. We see Salomon as a simple man seeking asylum from something he may not even be able to pin-point. Pardo, in particular, gives a truly internal and expressive performance. Instead of tapping into the mania of drug abuse, she taps into the girl floating among her hopes and desires as well as her desperation and loss.
Artificial Paradises, doesn’t pack an emotional punch or make a grand statement, but it is a good examination of what people cling to to get through the day. But, its the setting that brings it all to life. Its earthiness permeates to highlight the vulnerability of human beings. The film straddles the line of pessimism, even dreariness, and it is likely many people will see that way. But, the aim is noteworthy and the honesty is certainly present.
Sanela Djokovic is a writer living in the Bronx
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