Paradise (2014)

*. Any filmmaker’s style represents a particular way of looking at the world and expressing its meaning. The “look” of a film is always doing some work, no matter how generic it may seem. This is probably even more so in the case of animation, where reality is more obviously transformed and exaggerated in fanciful ways.
*. I think that’s clearly the case with Laura Vandewynckel’s Paradise, whose very distinctive visuals carry a message.
*. The main visual motif is that of transparency. We begin at an airport that is a kind of skeleton, all white frames that nevertheless contain space and are impermeable. Departures can’t just walk through empty walls but have to follow a certain path. That same transparency is also how human figures are rendered, as though their flesh has been stripped away and all that’s left is one of those “visible men” figures, with scribbles of a yarn-like circulatory system. It seems like they should be falling apart, but as with the airport building there’s an implied but invisible structure holding them together.

*. When the man gets on the plane we’re introduced to the second visual motif, as we cross a green moat protecting the White World from a sunny resort destination. Again there is the idea of an invisible barrier, one that the plane cruises above, upsetting the desperate refugees drowning below.
*. As it turns out, the man is enjoying a kind of sex tourism, where he’ll get to leave behind some of the extra baggage he picks up. What happens in the tropics, stays in the tropics. Alas, the White World won’t be able to maintain its gated-community status, and when the Man returns there are hints that the chickens are coming home to roost.
*. The political message is pretty clear. The native porters as sprinters at the block when the plane descends is a nice observation. White people get to enjoy the good things in life, flying above the suffering of the burning lands and their refugees without any sense of responsibility. Just as the plane passes over the refugees, the Man steps over the derelict in the doorway (whose appearance was fittingly foreshadowed in an earlier shot of a puddle).
*. Using the visual motif of transparency, Vandewynckel exposes the hypocrisy and vulnerability of the White World’s fantasy of splendid isolation. We see through it, and through them. How much longer can such frail structures hold together?


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