Writer-director Gaël Morel’s film "Our Paradise" is a tale of corruption and bloodshed, a story of love and brutality, and a daring mixture of the angelic and the demonic. Jagged and romantic by turns, this isn’t an easy film to like, but it is easy to admire, and it’s clearly a work that asks questions worth pondering.
The demonic force here is Vassily (Stéphane Rideau), an aging hustler who, as he reflects at one point, never asked himself what he’d do once he was over the hill. Upon finding himself no longer young and effortlessly desirable, Vassily takes to murdering his tricks. But he’s not heartless or so full of fury that he’s beyond love; quite to the contrary--when he happens across Angelo (Dimitri Durdaine), a young man who has been beaten by homophobic thugs and left battered and bloody in a park, Vassily takes him in and tenderly patches him up.
The two quickly fall in love and become a hustling duo, hiring themselves out as a tag-team act. Vassily continues his bloodletting behind Angelo’s back, until, alarmed at the creepy things a john wants Angelo to do with a rat, Vassily freaks out and kills the guy on the spot. But Angelo, though shaken, stands by his man; thus the two become natural born killer rent boys.
When things get too hot in Paris, the two retreat to Lyon, where Anna (Béatrice Dalle), an ex-girlfriend of Vassily, lives with her mother and young son, also named Vassily. Is the kid our hot-blooded killer’s son? Anna says he’s not, and young Vassily himself is quite clear in his stated hope that he never does meet his father, but the question lingers. It’s clear that big Vassily still adores Anna; he presents the sleeping, naked Angelo to her almost as an offering, initiating a threesome and foreshadowing a nifty twist that delivers an eventual comeuppance.
Snow falls throughout the film, floating down dreamily or showering over scenes of carnage with eerie calm, the promise of peace and gentleness to wipe away sin and blood. Vassily speaks to Angelo of a paradise awaiting them at the end of a journey to a mountain chateau; what escape does he anticipate, or what fresh beginning? The chateau is owned by Victor (Didier Flamand), Vassily’s first customer and a long-standing father figure. Victor’s lover, Kamel (Malik Issolah), reacts with dismay to the guests; he and Vassily see in one another paths not taken and lives not lived. Is redemption still possible, and even if it is, is it something Vassily would want?
This film is charged with sex and danger; it’s often beautiful, and just as often disconcerting or downright shocking. It is, in a word, art: "Our Paradise" might be the most exciting, disturbing, and controversial film of this year’s festival season.