Noticias 30 years of the Erasmus Program
Official Section Statements: Enrico Maria Artale, director of ‘El Paraíso’

“The inability to find a way to emancipate oneself from a fundamental but deleterious relationship, generates psychological aberrations”


Winner of the awards for best actress and screenplay in the Orizzonti section of the last Venice Biennale, ‘El Paraíso’, by Enrico Maria Artale, describes the complex mother-child relationships of the protagonists in a context of social marginality and criminality. In this Italian production we meet Julio César, a small-time drug trafficker who lives with his mother, a strong-willed Colombian, in a humble house next to a river. Their coexistence, already oppressive, is shaken when a young woman enters their lives to act as a cocaine mule. The underlying theme of ‘El Paraíso’ is the inability to emancipate ourselves from personal relationships that are fundamental in our lives, but at the same time are extremely harmful.

The genesis of ‘El Paraíso’ is part of a biographical and artistic journey that began several years ago, during the long editing of my documentary, ‘Saro’, a first-person film about my first and only meeting with my father when I was twenty-five. My goal creatively, and perhaps psychotherapeutically, was to get to know an absent father; but during the process of reworking the events I realised I was deepening my understanding of my relationship with my mother more than I had ever done before. This discovery generated a feeling of acceptance and consequently a renewed love so strong that it weaved into the film I’d begun to write in the meanwhile, becoming its core.

The original idea I’d been working on came from a conversation with Edoardo Pesce. Edoardo and I met on my first film and a brotherly friendship was born. We decided to develop ‘El Paraíso’ together, but the story still felt too detached for me and I deeply needed, after a debut born almost on commission, to find something strongly personal. So the complex relationship between Julio and his mother, which was slight at first, began to take over. I was interested in exploring the dynamic between a mother and a son, a relationship full of feeling, symbiotic, stimulating, but also oppressive and totalising. The impossibility of separation, the inability to find a way to emancipate oneself from a fundamental but ultimately deleterious relationship, generates psychological aberrations: this is the theme that I feel runs through the entire film.

What interested me more, however, was to create a constant dialogue between the inside and the outside, between the interior and the exterior, focusing on the character’s bodies as a vessel of this exchange. A kind of cinema focusing on the body, rather than on faces: keeping in radical proximity with the character without reducing them to close-ups, keeping the shots open so as not to lose the actor’s physicality and plasticity, allowing the actors freedom of movement and always looking for a way to adapt the language of the film accordingly. In this sense, the choice, also suggested by Edoardo, to completely take control of the camera, to put on the role of cameraman and live the scenes from the inside, in contact with the moods of the characters to truly capture the situation, was fundamental.

To achieve this, I asked my set designer to design and renovate an existing house as if we were in a studio to allow us all the movements I’d imagined. Above all, the aim was to set up a short circuit, between naturalism and artifice, around which I wanted to define the style of the film. On the one hand I was looking for absolute emotional credibility, rooted in reality: I wanted to shoot in chronological order, to concentrate the filming in a restricted area at the mouth of the Tiber that could become our world, involving local people. On the other hand, I tried to push this same world beyond realism, through the costumes, the furnishings, the photography, and even the music, for a constant reference to an “elsewhere” that however – here is the short-circuit – would always be diegetic and present on set at the time of filming, having imagined in advance the soundtrack to each sequence.

Thus the inner darkness with which the story is permeated remains in constant dialogue with a scenario in stark contrast: an imaginary, colourful corner of South America. The house on the river, the little boat kept in the garden, the Latin American music, the bright salsa dresses, the sensuality of bodies in motion. Everything fits the description of an emotionally rich world, animated by that aching vivacity with which Colombian culture is deeply attached to which I’d come to know a little through friendships, relationships, long journeys and through the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It was precisely this composite identity between a mournful Roman attitude and Caleña vitality that animated the search for the actors, both in terms of their movements and to find a common language. None of the four main actors spoke the other language (Italian or Spanish, as the case may be), and each one had to find his or her own way of expression, their own degree of hybridisation and pastiche so that I could play with their misunderstandings and reiterations without losing fluidity. It was a particularly challenging job for Margarita Rosa de Francisco, who had to act mostly in Italian, or rather in Roman dialect, without having any previous familiarity with the language. Margarita was a wonderful encounter, one of the many that this film has somehow managed to create by indissolubly intertwining cinema and life: the best thing that can happen to a filmmaker.