“Every time I tell anyone I’m a poet, they just…think I’m really pretentious” – Hurt by Paradise (Film Review)

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Debut director Greta Bellamacina’s Hurt by Paradise is an interesting indie drama that beautifully, and comically portrays female friendship, motherhood, and crashing dreams. Exploring the mundanity of Celeste’s life, impressively played by Bellamacina herself, the lead struggles to find success in her poetry, despite her extreme passion and belief. Always alongside her wild and caring neighbour Stella, played by co-writer Sadie Brown, this story has its most enjoyable scenes in their company. It is a sweet and unique watch, though at times, does convey a level of pretentiousness and privilege, despite outlining its awareness of the pretention associated with poetry: “Every time I tell anyone I’m a poet, they just sort of think I’m really pretentious”.

Definitely a slow-burn, Hurt by Paradise does not rush with narrative; the main characters and vibe of the story are heavily focused on. Firstly, informing the audience of Celeste’s diminishing dream of being a poet, and simultaneously showing off the various locations in London – which is made to look foreign and exciting, with poignant colours and dream-like streets and parks.

The constant use of voiceover is mostly to communicate her poetic voice and involve the audience in her latest artistic creation. The narrative mainly focuses on the ebb and flow of her writing, following her obsessively, from voiceover to dining table, allowing her life commentary to dominate the screen and sound.

Celeste is likeable, but arguably often conveys ignorance and an unrealistic depiction of a struggling poet living in London. Despite her apparent lack of money and prospects, Celeste continuously trapeses around coffee shops, parties, and classes, writing in fanciful vintage outfits – yet never pays Jimmy’s (her son) babysitter (Stella). However, the performance is charming, and the flaws in character are paved over with the sweetness, and lovable relationship with Stella; the two women display both a cute, dysfunctional family and a strong, unbreakable friendship. The performances outweigh the lacking narrative, and the mismatch of cinematic elements do come together to overall create an enjoyable and engaging watch.

Nominated for Best British Feature Film at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, this film definitely has some great characteristics. The naturalistic nature of the content, and Bellamacina’s attempt to discuss a variety of important and emotive topics, is admirable and places the story appropriately in the British film world. However, it felt at times that the story had too many possible avenues, and the constant introduction of new characters was unnecessary and frustrating. Each new and random character introduced entices the audience, but unfortunately leaves us hanging – for example, co-writer Robert Montgomery’s loosely developed character Harry, a pilot who interests Celeste very briefly. The erratic and incoherent nature of the narrative does, however, cleverly mirror the lead’s personal headspace and her obsession with poetry, and frankly… little else.

Hurt by Paradise is an ode to poetry, exploring the director’s auto-biographical life as a poet and single mother; a poignant and fun movie, which is worthy of a watch for the performances alone.

Dir: Greta Bellamacina

Scr: Greta Bellamacina, Sadie Brown, Robert Montgomery

Cast: Greta Bellamacina, Sadie Brown, Nicholas Rowe, Natalie Hand, Lorca Montgomery, Tanya Burr, Anna Brewster, Robert Montgomery, Jaime Winstone, Bruno Aleph Wizard, Stanley Eldridge, Jazzy De Lisser, Sophie Hopkins, Tim Pritchett, Camilla Rutherford, Jason Thorpe

Prd: Camilla Bellamacina, Hal Brotherton-Ratcliffe, Jack Eve, Robert Montgomery

DOP: Fabio Paleari, Emily-Jane Robinson

Music: Cosima Bellamacina, Dalal Bruchmann, Jeff Franzel

Country: United Kingdom

Year: 2019

Run time: 83 minutes

Hurt by Paradise is available to watch on digital now.

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