"Paradisco" is a welcome tonic to the "sex = death" neo-prudery that passes for gay sexuality today.
Francois (the handsome veteran French theater and film actor Jerome Pradon) has picked up a young stud, Nicolas (cute as a button newcomer Nicolas Larzul). The next morning, Francois' effeminate American friend (the almost unrecognizable Anthony Rapp ["Adventures in Babysitting," "Dazed and Confused," "Road Trip," "Cruise Control," "A Beautiful Mind"]) shows up and dishes over the delectable stud. "Skilled, long-lasting and eminently flexible" is the conclusion Francois draws.
But the stud is awake, and has overheard. Although not upset by the discussion of his sexual skills, Nicolas is dismissive of Francois' friend. He also notices that Francois is moving; Francois admits that it is time to move on. Although he's had some great disco parties in the house, it is time to let the past go. Nicolas chides Francois gently for his affection for disco music. But Francois tells Nicolas that the era of disco was special. Nicolas says that Francois is "old," but still looks wonderful despite his age. Francois tells Nicolas that back in the late 1970s, he looked even better... and back in time the two go, to New Year's Eve, 1979.
Francois' home is full of party-goers, dancing to disco music. But one by one, Francois points out all the friends who have died. It's sobering. Nicolas is appalled, and looks as if he is about to tell Francois that they should have known better. But Francois points out the people who have survived, too -- including the now-much-younger, handsome, sexy American who Nicolas had been so dismissive of a short time ago. As the dancers dance, they sing a song celebrating disco. It's a revolution, a way of expressing yourself, a way of being free, a way of finding yourself. New families are created on the dance floor, new ways of being and seeing and loving. Nicolas becomes enthralled.
Francois takes Nicolas to the bedroom, where they listen as Francois' best friend has sex behind the closed door. The song continues, with the dancers blissfully unaware of the epidemic of death and hatred that will cut most of them down in the next few years.
Finally, Nicolas asks to see this best friend. Francois gestures to the landing -- where we see that the best friend looks just like Nicolas. And then the dream ends. The startling similarity between the now-dead best friend and Nicolas has jerked Francois and Nicolas back to reality. His judgmentalism about sex, age, disco and free love washed away by the trip through time, Nicolas tells Francois that he very much wants to see him again. As Francois looks over his collection of disco memorabilia and memories, the film ends.
In some ways, "Paradisco" is probably one of the first post-AIDS films. It takes the "Austin Powers" approach to the era of free love: It was all about choices, baby. If we'd known what was coming, we'd have been more responsible; after all, it was all about choices.
That defense of the era of free love is not very convincing, for judgmental moralist would simply respond, "But I told you so." But in its way, "Paradisco" at least fumbles for a defense; many others have simply not tried, or actively condemned the era of free-love as being irresponsible, destructive and all about treating people as flesh-holes for sex rather than as individuals.
In regard to this final critique, "Paradisco" vociferously denies that the free-love era was in any way dehumanizing. To the contrary, it enabled people to find love, companionship and a sense of belonging without the constant cruising, tricking and hooking up that characterize the new millennium -- or which characterize the way Francois and Nicolas met. Indeed, the American's comments about Nicolas are more humiliating and regressive than anything which would ever have been uttered on the disco floor.
And that is perhaps the really terrific thing about "Paradisco": The film has so much to offer audiences, but it does so through song, performance, characterization, behavior and setting than it does through preachy dialogue. The film's effectiveness comes through only after you've thought and felt about it for a while, not because a character says so.
To me, that's the sign of good film-making.
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