Hurt By Paradise - review
by Wesley Kirkpatrick
There is a fine line between being using someone’s work as source of inspiration and plagiarism. Unfortunately for Greta Bellamacina, in the case of her directorial debut film Hurt by Paradise, she appears to have trodden on the wrong side of the line, leaning towards plagiarism at times whilst concurrently managing to blemish her movie’s original source’s strengths.
Greta Bellamacina occupies a director/actor role, starring as the movie’s protagonist Celeste, a single mother living in London who aspires to become a famous poet. The film follows our protagonist as she attempts to establish a balance between her motherly duties and her professional aspirations. Celeste is aided by her best friend Stella (Sadie Brown) who possesses her own dreams of stardom as she yearns to become an actress, yet spends most of her time babysitting Celeste’s child. The film suffers from poor character development in such a way that makes the characters unlikeable and renders their growth and journey lacklustre.
The film can initially appear as though it has acquired traits from other works in an attempt to then be reassembled within the director’s own setting in an attempt to replicate their success. For example, the initial sequence of the movie can only be described as the opening sequence of Woody Allen’s Manhattan, but instead of being set in the borough of New York, it is set in London. I initially perceived it as an attempt to rip off his work however, upon reflection, it is clearly a clumsy attempt to show her appreciation for his work. The similarities with other films increase with the story’s quirky protagonists Celeste and Stella being greatly reminiscent of Frances and Sophie in Noah Baumbach’s Frances Ha. Finally, it is impossible to look past another similarity with Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach’s works which is the choice of shooting in black and white.
Hurt by Paradise serves as both a tribute to Greta Bellamacina’s hometown of London and as a tribute to the filmmakers that she admires, notably Woody Allen and Noah Baumbach. However, the final product is executed poorly as it lacks the one thing that made her influencers’ movies stand out: originality. Bellamacina is so focused on their works and on paying tribute to them that she forgets to add her own touch to her movie. In that sense, it becomes somewhat useless to view Hurt by Paradise, if no novelties are to be portrayed, as one may as well simply watch Manhattan or Frances Ha.
Bellamacina doesn’t appear to have been able to both pay tribute and add her own touch to her movie. A lot of filmmakers pay tribute to past directors or genres whilst perhaps adding their own spin on their film. For example, Damien Chazelle’s La La Land is a clear ode to Jacques Demy’s 1960s musicals namely The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. However, Chazelle put his own spin on his movie therefore giving his work a more modern relevance and meaning.
By hyper-focussing on paying tribute to her favourite filmmakers, Bellamacina ends up with a flawed conclusion. Her plot lacks any sort of substance that would make it somewhat engaging as we follow a couple of Londoners, for whom the writing does not enable us to care for, as they go about their daily struggles which appear to be self-inflicted due to the poor character development.
Bellamacina had everything to succeed; an incredible location in London, a clear love for “film d’auteur” and a talented actress to play the lead role in herself. Unfortunately, her lack of directorial experience is evident as the end result produces a film about two Londoners whose fate is of little concern to anyone viewing it.
Hurt by Paradise is unlikely to receive a wide UK release but in the event that it does the choice becomes almost evident to view Manhattan and Frances Ha instead. By solely paying tribute to their work it feels as though the director is placing their work on such a high pedestal that she is inevitably telling us that her own movie cannot rival theirs - In that case there is no reason to watch Hurt by Paradise. If Greta Bellamacina gets the opportunity to direct another project I sincerely hope she seizes the opportunity to showcase her talents as a filmmaker so that we can see what she is able to produce in her own unique style.