Hurt By Paradise: BRWC Raindance Review. by Matt Keay.
Greta Bellamacina’s ‘Hurt By Paradise’ opens with a thinly veiled homage to the opening of Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’. Stark black and white photography of London and an accompanying, unsure, faltering voiceover set the stage. There’s even a Gershwin lite soundtrack to round things off.
It is this kind of tribute to cinema which heavily informs the director’s first feature, but which rather dilutes an otherwise promising debut as a result.
Bellamacina herself plays Celeste, a young single mother who spends her days either trudging the streets of the capital with her poetry manuscript in hand, attempting to solicit a publication from any of the publishers in the city, or looking after her son at home.
When Celeste is out and about, she employs the help of her friend Stella, (Sadie Brown, also co-writer), to cover the childcare. Both women pursue their own passions; Celeste, her writing, which she claims is ‘an ode to my father, not a revenge book’ and the obsessive search for her absent father in the phonebook, and Stella, her acting career, and her new online relationship with the enigmatic ‘Roman’.
The film’s strength is the dynamic between the two leads, which the stylised direction detracts from all too often. The relationship between Celeste and Stella is touching, albeit rote at times, but there are some genuinely real moments, showcasing Sadie Brown’s talent for comedy, as she gets all the best lines. “They told me my face was too ad-hoc”, she moans, after another failed audition.
However, these women are never truly scrutinised. One feels as if as if one is intruding on private moments with strangers, that we are eavesdropping, rather than sharing a story.
It’s a love letter, of sorts, to London, but viewed through the lens of other filmmakers. The reverence for the cinematic landscape is obvious. Noah Baumbach’s ‘Frances Ha’ is the clearest exemplar for comparison, as ‘Hurt By Paradise’ is primarily concerned with the plight of middle-class creatives experiencing dwindling returns on their emotional and professional output.
The film contains multitudes, visually and thematically, but Bellamacina seems reticent to allow her characters to fully breathe in the space, and as a result her inspirations leak through. It remains to be seen if the director can form her own voice, and break free from her influences.
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