In the Paris of the 1880s, Paul Gauguin (Kiefer Sutherland) is a successful stockbroker who loves his Danish wife Mette (Nastassja Kinski) and four children. But he loves painting even more and when one of his idols, Camille Pissarro (Alun Armstrong) compliments him on his work, Gauguin decides to throw it all in to become a painter himself. Soon, the family is reduced to poverty with Mette and the children moving back to her family home in Copenhagen. Paul follows and tries his hand at a business career but his heart isn’t in it. He returns to France to pursue his dream, but in search of fresh inspiration – and cheaper overheads – he sets sail for Tahiti. Gauguin sides with the Tahitians in their conflict with the colonial administration and missionaries, who are destroying the islanders’ traditional faith. He produces some of his best work, which when exhibited in Paris, earns Gauguin nothing but ridicule and humiliation. All except Mette and Pissarro turn their backs on him. Hurt but more determined than ever, Gauguin returns to the South Seas to continue the fight.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Thanks to inventive production design and cinematography, Paradise Found looks more substantial than its budget, which despite its many financing partners is not large enough. Perhaps a little more money would have bought enough time to develop and refine the script, which feels laboured rather than inspired. This is a heavy weight to carry for a film also burdened with the sort of cross cultural casting that makes it impossible for audiences to connect with the cultural and social context of the story. How characters sound is one of the most basic and crucial elements of film, because they build character; using English for commercial reasons (when it isn’t the real language of the story) can be successful, so long as there is a uniformity to the use of accents and tones (eg The Pianist). Here, the accents and timbres of the cast consistently throw us off the scent of character and context, ranging from old Australian to new, from English to American and accented English. This is not helped by the film’s structure, which hops back and forth in time like a grasshopper but with less reason. To make matters worse, a miscast Keifer Sutherland gives an uninspired performance as Gaugin. Biographies are basically documentary in nature and flipping the time line is fraught with hazards. There is a sense of disorientation about the film’s editing which deprives us of any emotional journey. Confused and disconnected, I found the film frustrating for presenting a fascinating subject and intriguing artist in such inaccessible form.
Review by Louise Keller:
The search for Paradise has never been easy, and the challenge of recreating a world of famous artists is a daunting one. Paradise is never found here by director Mario Andreacchio, who battles in an uphill struggle with John Goldsmith’s script and a structure that totally distances us as it flits from the present to the past and years in between. Add the cross pollination of accents and language that just doesn’t sit credibly in the 19th century (‘You’re a fuckin’ genius,’ says Chris Hayward’s Arnaud), and we are totally distanced from events and the characters. Geoffrey Simpson’s gorgeous cinematography makes the most of the beautiful settings and allows us a taste of Paul Gauguin’s world through his eyes. It is frustrating that we never get to understand Gauguin a little; he declares that he ‘is here to start a revolution’, but doesn’t really believe in himself. The jumps in time (the film begins in 1891 in Tahiti, then reverts to 17 years prior in Paris, then to 1882 in Rouen and then 1897 in Paris) are confusing and stop us from feeling connected to the characters. The actors do the best they can with the script, and we feel for Nastassja Kinski’s wife Mette, who is trying to keep her family together, but can’t understand the selfishness and aloofness of her husband, as he pursues his dream. Chris Hayward and Nicholas Hope’s characters are perhaps the only ones that ring true on some level. It seems the questions Gauguin wants to address, ‘Where do we come from; what are doing and where are we going’ are not to be answered here.
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PARADISE FOUND (M)
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland, Nastassja Kinski, Alun Armstrong, Thomas Heinze, Chris Haywood, Nicholas Hope
PRODUCER: Mario Andreacchio, Georges Campana, Andrew Somper
DIRECTOR: Mario Andreacchio
SCRIPT: John Goldsmith
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Simpson
EDITOR: Ted McQueen-Mason
MUSIC: Frank Strangio
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jean-Vincent Puzos
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Entertainment
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Adelaide: March 27, 2003; Other states tba