The director of Paradise, 79-year-old Andrei Konchalovsky, has been making films since 1961. Internationally, he is best known for directing the long 1966 classic, Andrei Rublev. In the United States, he’s better known for directing the not-so-classic 1989 thriller Tango and Cash. He did win an Emmy for the 1997 adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey.
Paradise tells the story of three people involved in World War II: Jules, a French officer who is collaborating with the Nazis; Olga, a Russian émigré fashion editor is who is arrested for hiding two Jewish children and turned over to Jules; and Helmut, a wealthy German who is considered an unlikely catch when he joins the overwhelmingly lower-class Nazi cause.
Actually, it is Jules, Olga and Helmut who mostly tell the story themselves, speaking directly to the camera as if they are responding to a series of questions from an unseen interrogator. Early in the film, Jules is assassinated by the French resistance…and yet he keeps telling his story. This gives us the hint that his interrogator is Saint Peter at the Gates of Heaven.
Jules had agreed to let Olga go in exchange for a sexual encounter, but after he is killed, Olga is shipped to a concentration camp which Helmut is also sent to in order to check on financial irregularities. The two recognize each other because, back when they were younger and shared a life of wealth and nobility, they flirted with each other.
Beautifully filmed in black and white, and highlighted by excellent performances by Julia Vysotskaya as Olga and Christian Clauss as Helmut, Paradise goes beyond just showing the horrors of the Holocaust to also address why people make the moral decisions that affect the lives of others.