Hurt by Paradise
- Katie Goh
- 24 June 2019
EIFF 2019: Greta Bellamacina's debut has its charms but is scuppered by self-consciousness
Opening with a homage to Woody Allen's Manhattan, Greta Bellamacina's feature debut is part love letter to modern London and part love letter to other filmmakers' love letters. Director and writer Bellamacina plays the film's protagonist, Celeste, a young single mother struggling to make it as a poet. While Celeste spends most of her days traipsing around London being rejected by publishers, her neighbour and struggling actress, Stella (played by the film's co-writer Sadie Brown), babysits her son.
While both women share creative passions that seem to be going nowhere, they're also associated with absent, enigmatic male figures. Celeste's poetry, she claims, is 'more of an ode than a revenge book' to her missing father, who she searches for in phonebooks. Meanwhile, Stella will soon be celebrating her one-month anniversary with the mysterious 'Roman', who she is constantly messaging on the internet but has never met.
Shot in black-and-white, Hurt by Paradise shares similarities in style and character with Noah Baumbach's Frances Ha, but Bellamacina's film never quite finds its footing. Dipping into mumblecore, irreverent comedy and indie drama, it is so self-conscious of what it thinks it should be doing that it fails to move beyond surfaces. Conflicts are hinted at without being developed – such as the balancing act of being a mother and providing for a child while pursuing artistic ambition – but the film frequently abandons its characters' journeys in pursuit of a heightened visual style.
Hurt by Paradise's saving grace is its central dynamic between Celeste and Stella. Scenes of their unconventional family unit immersed in happy domesticity are genuinely charming and allow the film space to breathe. These glimpses at naturalism hint at the better film that has gotten lost in the edit.
Screened on Thu 20 and Sat 22 Jun as part of the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2019. General release TBC.