by Martyn Conterio
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Paraiso Travel is an exceptional, and occasionally, bleak exploration of Latin America migrants attempting to make new lives for themselves illegally in the United States. Chronicling the search for a missing woman in New York City with flashbacks to the perilous journey from Colombia to the US; it constantly sidesteps stereotypes, clichés, and even, expectation. From the gaudy, ironic title sequence onwards, Simon Brand’s film is creative and distinct. Indeed, its mixture of social-realism and overtly stylish cinematography could have been disasterous.
Two young Colombian teens - Reina and Marlon - (Angelica Blandon and Raúl Castillo) steal money from relatives and undertake, what they believe, will be a romantic adventure to the US. Instead, Paraiso Travel - the people traffickers posing as a pseudo travel agency expose them to extortion, degradation, robbery - even murder. A seemingly minor incident - throwing a cigarette packet on the pavement - turns into a major plot catalyst for Marlon, who is confronted by two passing NYPD officers and becomes lost, fleeing from the scene.
In offering two distinct narratives, the film, constantly reveals new ideas and secrets - forcing the audience to change its opinion regarding the relationship between the central pair. Marlon and Reina react to situations in different ways. As one unfortunate man is placed dead on the ground by a trucker, Brand’s powerful use of tableaux inverts travel agency-like imagery to foreground a smiling Reina with her back to the death scene. The joy on Reina’s face, having set foot on American soil - as fellow travellers are crying and vomiting - is terrifying in its selfishness.
New York City, too, is presented as some great unfathomable, concrete beast and the wintry setting clashes thematically with the other locations such as the jungle and desert: Marlon is left out in the cold in every sense imaginable. He soon learns the skills to survive whereas Reina’s dream life, always unattainable, is slowly shattered. Her transformation from minx to trailer trash is a startling and a poignant lesson.
Whilst Paraiso Travel is the fictional story of one couple’s tumultuous life journey, it is symbolic of a greater collective experience. These people may be the ghosts of our cities; our servants, but they have their dreams, and they will risk everything. It ends leaving many questions unanswered. Lives and relationships are left open to undefined future. Perhaps Marlon will make it. Others, it warns, will not be so lucky.
Martyn Conterio lives in London, England. After leaving Manchester Metropolitan University, where he studied film, he worked as a script and continuity supervisor for a community arts project ReelMcr. He has written for several major online film magazines including the award-winning Scene 360. He also contributes to Flux magazine. In-between all of this, he publishes poetry and short fiction.
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