The work of a master who knows how to direct actors
I have worked in the industry for 20 years now and have had the privilege of working with enormously talented people. I saw PARAISO recently at the 2009 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, founded by Oscar-nominated actor-director Edward James Olmos. I would characterize the director of PARAISO, whose work I didn't previously know, as amongst the finest. Director Leon Ichaso elicits stunning performances from his cast of actors. I did some research into the making of the film, which I loved, and found that the lead was a recent immigrant from Cuba, an unknown young actor. The performance Mr. Ichaso elicited from his lead was commanding and reminiscent of the work of a favorite of mine, of everybody's really, Gael Garcia Bernal. The actor in fact bears some resemblance to Mr. Bernal. The director of this film made a courageous, I feel, choice in portraying a newly immigrated Cuban immigrant in a dark way, i.e. not every immigrant who manages to escape from Cuba is deserving of our sympathy. And yet, where I feel Mr. Ichaso succeeded brilliantly, was his ability to make his unlikeable protagonist somehow sympathetic. It takes a master filmmaker to pull that off: make you feel for someone you should otherwise not care about. The film, I also learned, was shot for 30,000 dollars. Incredible what was accomplished with so little money. The films is virtually an embarrassment to those who spend 10 or 20 times the budget to make such a film happen. Many people will label a film a melodrama to facilely dismiss a film. Oh my God, it's a melodrama! In fact, melodrama is a genre that is tried and true and has led to box office success and even critical acclaim. When something is done well, it's done well, and that's what's happened here. The film takes us into the Miami Cuban community of immigrants in a way that made me really feel and understand that community, maybe, for the first time. So here director is successful in what films need to do: takes us through a journey or place or community into which we've never been and portray it truthfully. The look of the film is gritty and real and not overdone so as to allow the subject to speak loudly and poignantly for itself. The film is suspenseful throughout and the choices made by the protagonist are disturbing and stirring. Characterizations were not only affecting, but characters make surprising choices at every turn. Particularly compelling was the character of an aging man who because of his need to feel he's had a greater legacy in life than he's had, believes a legacy, not his own, to in fact be his own. I have urged my colleagues and friends to see this film ASAP. Thanks to the director for taking me deep into a world to which I've never been. Bravo. And brilliant choice on the part of the film festival for choosing this great work.
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