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 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

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Based on real events and people, Paradise Road is the story of a number of women interned by the Japanese in Sumatra during the war who form a choir, using music that is orchestrated - entirely from memory - by an inmate (a missionary), as a way of coping with the trauma of their predicament. The story begins at an elegant dinner dance at Raffles in February 1942, which is rudely interrupted by the war - the Japanese arrive in Singapore. Women and children are sent off on a boat but the ship is bombed and the survivors captured. In the depravations of the Japanese camp, the women form unlikely relationships, which play out against their relations with their captors. And of course, the music which they create.

"Paradise Road is a brilliant production in every sense, with outstanding cinematography, sound, make up and production design, and an almost faultless ensemble of actors and actresses. Almost, because the generally talented Frances McDormandís German doctor is unaccountably weak (undermined in particular by a poor accent). But this is not enough to weaken the film as a whole, which is especially powerful in its portrayal of the womenís emotional and psychological journey from the high society of a Raffles evening, through the harrowing Japanese attack on the escaping boat, to the nightmare of Sumatran prison camps. The hoo haa about Beresfordís portrayal of the Japanese is unfounded: he seems to have gone out of his way to soften the impact, albeit there is enough sadistic behaviour to bring the atrocity of war stressfully close at times. Blanchett, Close and Collins are superb in the lead roles, and so are all three Japanese who play significant characters. Beresfordís direction of such a complex film with such a large cast is impressively assured, and despite the absence of a core storyline (which some American filmmakers might have been tempted to manufacture) he brings out enough emotion to fulfil the filmís promise. Donít let some of the critics put you off: itís well worth seeing."
Andrew L. Urban

"Bruce Beresfordís beautifully crafted film leaves a legacy of great emotional impact. Through superlative lead performances and focused direction, this stirring story of courage, struggle and friendship is a tale well told. It is a hugely satisfying cinematic experience that takes the viewer on the harrowing journey from pre-war Singapore to the atrocities of the prisoner of war camps. Although the topic of war and Japanese prisoner treatment is still extremely sensitive, there is a certain no-nonsense approach to the well-paced and uncluttered script: the sense of time passing well handled. There are many occasions where pictures alone speak to greater effect than words could ever convey. The beauty of the pure music, in such an otherwise ugly environment, is moving to the extreme. I agree with Andrew: I would have liked to hear more. Glenn Close as Adrienne Pargiter gives a truly great performance; Pauline Collins is full of warmth and integrity; Cate Blanchett effective; Jennifer Ehle is particularly vulnerable. There is a feeling of unity about the whole cast, although Frances McDormand seems out of place. There are many poignant moments: the scene deep in the forest, when the Japanese guard tries to impress Adrienne with his singing, as they sit dwarfed on the huge exposed roots of a tree, is one of the most touching in the film. This thought-provoking, yet curiously uplifting film, is a masterpiece."
Louise Keller

". . . Beresfordís Paradise Road is an honourable and even noble effort to pay tribute to the courage and strength of a group of disparate women . . . Though carefully rendered from a historical perspective this powerful account of female friendship and bonding under the most cruel conditions lacks the narrative focus and dramatic shapeliness to generate emotional excitement. . . Paradise Road falls victim to its generic format. . .Worse yet, helmer stumbles into a predictable narrative rhythm: almost every act of courage or defiance by the women is followed by an act of ruthless torture by the Japanese, and back again. This makes the film tediously repetitious, rambling from one episode to another with no strong, involving centre. . .Close dominates every scene she is in with her highly modulated performance, bringing her customary edge to a tough role. Collins, as usual, radiates warmth and intelligence as the kind missionary who often mediates among the various factions . . . pic boasts a strong sense of period verisimilitude, with particularly impressive contributions from lenser Peter James and production designer Herbert Pinter."
Emanuel Levy, Variety

"Paradise Road is an ambitious film, full of spectacular set pieces (such as the Fall of Singapore and its evacuation which is masterfully done), but it is also a film about a company of disparate characters, all so beautifully realised by both Beresford the writer, and Beresford the director. There are no star-turn performances here, rather a sense of genuine cohesion. Following her comic appearance in 101 Dalmatians, Close gives a perfectly controlled performance as a woman who changes so dramatically through her experiences, by her involvement with the choral orchestra. Hers is a deft, deeply moving portrayal. ER's Julianna Marguiles has less to do than many of her co-stars, but her choice scenes, including a memorable moment where she almost chooses life as a prostitute in the infamous satin sheet brigade, are superb. Britain's Pauline Collins is memorable as the missionary who finds it impossible to hate, while Australia's Cate Blanchett is extraordinary as the young nurse who finds a strength she never realised she had. Other fine work comes from Australia's Wendy Hughes, Pamela Rabe and Penne Hackforth-Jones, as well as from Pride and Prejudice star Jennifer Ehles. The film's music gives it an evocative edge, and it's sharply shot by esteemed cinematographer Peter James. As for the choir sequences, they are amongst the most moving and resonant scenes in a film full of emotional power. From the faultless acting, to the mastery of Beresford's vision, Paradise Road is a film to watch out for; it certainly is an extraordinary and satisfying work on all levels."
Paul Fischer

"With Close at the helm, the ensemble cast is fairly impressive: Pauline Collins is appealingly chipper as the tolerant missionary, while Australian newcomer Cate Blanchett gives the most poignant performance as a nurse who discovers her true strength. Only Academy Award-winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) seems out of place: she is curiously stiff as the Austrian (sic) Jew who's playing camp doctor to survive. (McDormand does not share Meryl Streep's facility with foreign accents.) Unfortunately, the movie's impact is undermined by the occasional silly line: "And I thought being a secretary was a rotten job," declares Topsy while digging mud. More importantly, Beresford's script lacks a strong narrative drive. As a result, this women-in-peril movie often seems repetitive, as every act of bravery is automatically followed by an act of brutality. Paradise Road has its emotionally powerful moments but, given the subject matter, it should have been even more stirring than it is."
Kathleen Carroll, Mr Showbiz (rating: 68)

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CAST: Glenn Close, Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Ehle, Frances McDormand, Julianna Margulies, Elzabeth Spriggs, Lia Scallon, Pamela Rabe, Tessa Humphries, Wendy Hughes, Lisa Hensley, Susie Porter, Pauline Chan, Clyde Kusatsu, Stan Egi, Aden Young, Stephen O'Rourke, Noel Ferrier, Steven Grives, Robert Grubb, Julie Anthony

PRODUCERS: Sue Milliken, Greg Coote

SCRIPT & DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford (Based on a story by David Giles & Martin Meader)


EDITOR: Tim Wellburn

SOUND: Gary Wilkins



COSTUMES: Terry Ryan


US DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes



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