Hurt by Paradise

Female friendship is at the heart of Greta Bellamacina's debut feature, although she sometimes lets her visual style get in the way of her charismatic characters

Film Review by Iana Murray | 20 Jun 2019
  • Greta Bellamacina, Lorca Montogmery and Sadie Brown
Film title: Hurt by Paradise
Director: Greta Bellamacina
Starring: Greta Bellamacina, Camilla Rutherford, Anna Brewster, Sadie Brown

The most intense friendships can feel like a romance: the euphoric highs, the crushing lows, the laughs, the tears. There are also the boring bits, the mundanity of real life that is wistfully realised in Greta Bellamacina’s debut feature.

Cinema has never been short of stories of struggling artists: Celeste (Bellamacina) is a poet battered by rejection upon rejection as she tries to find a publisher; her best friend and neighbour Stella (Sadie Brown) is an aspiring actress on the equally turbulent audition trail.

Perhaps it isn’t entirely coincidental that Bellamacina shares a name with Greta Gerwig. Hurt by Paradise is reminiscent of the actress’ breakout Frances Ha right down to the black and white palette (though colour occasionally floods into the frame). But to call it a mere carbon copy would be a disservice to the compassionate and grounded story on display.

Pain is a powerful force for inspiration, but Celeste lives in the illusion that she is pain-free. While she searches for her absent father in the phonebook, she attests that her poetry is “more of an ode to him than a revenge book” but the effects of his abandonment still linger in her refusal to let go. The two best friends also share babysitting duties for Celeste’s infant son, offering a fresh perspective on a familiar story without defining Celeste solely on the fact that she is a single mother.

The touching friendship between the two leads is somewhat undermined by the film’s heightened visual style that’s likely attributed to a first-time director showing off their chops. Interludes involving poetry read at length over longing shots of Soho are frequent and unnecessary. If only there was more trust placed on the infectious chemistry and charisma of the characters.

Hurt by Paradise, 20 Jun, 6pm, Odeon Lothian Road; 22 Jun, 8.35pm, Vue Omni

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