Back when European film production had a neat line in no-frills exploitation movies to ride the topical wave of an issue of the moment, a project like Escobar - Paradise Lost would be custom-tailored for that market of neighborhood theatres: a sensationalist, fanciful thriller built on a ripped-from-the-headlines theme and with a true-crime figure. Italian actor Andrea di Stefano's feature directing debut is clearly a fiction, positing a young Canadian surfer's (Josh Hutcherson) unwitting entry into the extended family of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar (Benicio del Toro), through a casual meet-cute and follow-up lightning-fast romance with his niece María (Claudia Traisac).

     It's nice to see Mr. di Stefano and his veteran co-screenwriter Francesca Marciano actually take the story seriously enough instead of playing up the tongue-in-cheek aspect, to try and create a plausible framework within a genre structure - yes, it's narratively signposted and hackneyed, though not much more than a Hollywood film on the same topic would be. But what makes it stand out is its openly operatic, high-strung melodramatic feel, underlined by Max Richter's slyly Morricone-like score and by the script's refusal to tie up its loose ends with a happy ending.

     Of course, since the Escobar Mr. di Stefano creates is a drug lord-as-rock star character, Mr. del Toro plays him as a larger-than-life, magnetic, whimsical personality, simultaneously playing God and mindful of God; the actor may be slumming it, but he slums it in a gloriously over-the-top fashion, while gradually injecting heft and darkness in a cartoon menace that becomes more scary as the film moves forward. Still, this is pretty much a game of two halves: the first hour is a dreamy, potentially naïve romance and the second a tense spaghetti-thriller, resulting in a somewhat schizophrenic piece whose tone veers all over the place and has a curious overlay of guilty pleasure all over it.

France, Spain, Belgium 2014
119 minutes
 Cast Benicio del Toro, Josh Hutcherson, Claudia Traisac, Brady Corbet, Carlos Bardem, Ana Girardot, Micke Moreno
 Director Andrea di Stefano; screenwriters Mr. di Stefano and Francesca Marciano; cinematographer Luis Sansans (colour, widescreen); composer Max Richter; designer Carlos Conti; costumes Marylin Fitoussi; editors David Brenner and Maryline Monthieux; producer Dimitri Rassam; production companies Chapter 2, Orange Studio, Pathé Production, Roxbury Pictures, Paradise Lost Film, Nexus Factory and Jouror Développement in co-production with Umedia
 Screened February 19th 2015, Lisbon


Popular Posts