Hurt by Paradise – Film Review

With such a poetic sounding name, Hurt by Paradise enthralls with its aesthetically stunning love letter to London. Hurt by Paradise takes the audience on a poetry strewn adventure through the dynamics of a strong female friendship where each woman is on a quest to find romantic or paternal love. Appearing within the 2019 Raindance Film Festival, Hurt by Paradise was nominated for the Best UK Feature award and is Greta Bellamacina’s directorial debut.

Hurt by Paradise has a dreamy feel from the outset with opening scenes, that many have likened to the film Manhattan, which truly portray London in a beautiful hue accompanied by the dulcet tones of director-actor Greta Bellamacina as the voiceover. London, certainly, has a starring role with glimpses of Fitzroy Square, Hampstead, the popular Lemonia restaurant and other areas making the city seem the fitting home for amateur poets and actresses amongst others.

Celeste, played by Bellamacina, is such poet and her best friend Stella, played by Sadie Brown, is the actress and Hurt by Paradise provides that unique perspective of viewing them as a family unit as Stella is often the last minute babysitter during Celeste’s time of need. Celeste even utters this philosophy stating ‘you don’t need a man to bring up a child, but you do need two women.’ The theme of strong women certainly reverberates throughout the film and the chemistry between Greta and Sadie as the two friends is also delightful to watch.

Greta Bellamacina as Celeste in Hurt by Paradise
Greta Bellamacina as Celeste in Hurt by Paradise

Hurt by Paradise is unafraid to tackle uncharted territory as it uniquely provides that insight into the dilemmas faced by a between jobs mother. We are witness to the behind the scenes organisation required to be able to attend job interviews or auditions, a freedom which many of us take for granted, and it is a fresh outlook of a single mother’s world. It is a delicate balancing act for a single mother, which is refreshing to view on screen to Bellamacina’s credit. The prejudice encountered when Stella brings Celeste’s child to an audition reminds us of this very real tension for mothers who may not be as privileged to have the type of support network created by Celeste and Stella.

Whilst Hurt by Paradise is a very pretty film, those dreamy aesthetics are immensely captivating, it is certainly striking to observe that the film’s emphasis is very much on the strong female relationships. The men within the film are either absent, patronising or indeed just simply weird! The character development of such male characters is lacking resulting in their roles being reduced to exaggerated caricatures, which is amusing overall; Hurt by Paradise is generally quite humorous in its outlook.

It is the enjoyable, absorbing scenes between Celeste and Stella which prevent Hurt by Paradise from merely being a series of vignettes punctuated by a title card with a line of poetry, similar to a silent film. The poems are also written by the multi-talented Bellamacina and can also be heard throughout the film recited by Bellamacina as the voiceover.

Stylistically shot, Hurt by Paradise seamlessly moves between a black and white palette to a colour palette depicting the various states of mind of the women. There are also some tenderly shot scenes of Celeste with her son, played by Bellamacina’s own son, as examples of Bellamacina’s impressive, technical, directorial skills. Those scenes highlight that the theme of relationships is very much at the core of Hurt by Paradise within its meditative approach.

The cinematography throughout Hurt by Paradise assists to convey that dreamy sensation as mentioned before, Hurt by Paradise is extremely pretty. The film itself, with its changing colour palette, serves to celebrate dreamers and poets alike as the change to colour signifies the poetic, dreamlike scenes. Celeste even mentions that ‘you can’t teach poetry, you either feel the pain or you don’t’ suggesting that a level of suffering is necessary to be an artist like herself and Stella, which is another aspect causing them to gravitate to each other. These sensations equally underpin the foundation of the relationship between Celeste and Stella which, without a lot of exposition, is subtly revealed to be quite one-sided. Many female viewers are likely to resonate with this depiction of an unequal friendship. Hurt by Paradise may therefore be that catalyst for many discussions within our friends and family networks.

Despite the limitations of filming on a low budget, Bellamacina succeeds in creating that cinematic magic within Hurt by Paradise. Not only does the film have stylistic flourishes but it makes London look extremely romantic whether within scenes in Primrose Hill or ones on the tube. At times, there is minimal dialogue in such scenes with Bellamacina trusting the non-diegetic, sensual, music, which envelopes such scenes, to captivate whilst the cinematography is immersed within music video style edits, which are distracting at times. Reminiscent of the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) style of filming, in some respects, with moody but stylish black and white filming, Hurt by Paradise is an intoxicating watch which captivates throughout with its poetic rhythm.

Hurt by Paradise also surprises with a few cameos from well known British actresses such as Jaime Winstone, spot them if you can, providing some comic relief. Whilst the film explores Celeste’s relationship with her father, and indeed the title of the film is derived from a poem of the same name regarding Celeste’s suppressed emotions towards her father, this quest is effectively relegated to a side plot, with a surprising twist. Verse 1 of the film does illustrate, however, that such quest is not defining Celeste as one with ‘father issues’ or indeed a one-dimensional character as her poetry book is ‘more of an ode to him than a revenge book.’

Jaime Winstone in Hurt by Paradise
Jaime Winstone in Hurt by Paradise

Hurt by Paradise is very much a celebration of women and our intimate relationships with each other and family. The film itself was made with a crew that mainly consists of women and therefore such female representation is also important to see off screen as well.

Having enjoyed watching Hurt by Paradise during the Raindance Film Festival, it was certainly delightful to re-watch and it is pleasing that the film has a forthcoming cinematic release. Hurt by Paradise will certainly make you laugh with its tale of friendship, dreams and disappointments as it strives to accentuate the beauty within the mundane. It is the perfect type of comedic film to watch with a group of friends because, as Hurt by Paradise illustrates, good friendships are important.

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