Sometimes, a screener lands in your lap that, once finished, you just don’t know how you feel about. Did I like it? Could I connect with it? Would I watch again? For me, Hurt by Paradise is one such example of these ‘did I/didn’t I’ titles, and I think I’ve come to a conclusion.
Director Greta Bellamacina stars as Celeste – poet, aspiring author, unemployed, student, young mum. Outside of her classes, Celeste spends her free time writing, looking after her son, and hanging out with neighbour, best friend and nearly full-time babysitter, Stella (Sadie Brown).
Stella herself is a myriad of quirks and personalities. Self-conscious about her years on Celeste, she wants to prove the world wong, that she can still become an actress despite edging towards the dreaded 4-0, and is planning to marry the man she’s met online…but is yet to ‘meet’.
While Stella’s busy sending flirty texts, Celeste has been trawling the internet trying to track down her dad, who upped and left when she was small. In her eyes, there can only be so many middle-aged men listed online with his name, and of course with all of her daydreaming she’s imagined he’s a sauve, sophisticated scholar.
As Celeste and Stella while away hot summer days in their London flat, clinging onto their dreams, their friendship is put to the test as tensions rise and fantasties are destroyed.
Written by Bellamacina and Brown, Hurt by Paradise is a story of female friendship and its trials. Greta has previously written and directed several shorts, while this is Sadie’s debut feature, both acting and writing.
Having finished the film and been left feeling unsure, a couple of days later I watched the trailer to remind myself of its ‘vibe’. Opening on long shots of quiet London streets, we hear Celeste’s controlled, clipped voice reciting lines from one of her pieces, before cutting herself short and stating that ‘when people find out I’m a poet, they presume I’m…pretentious‘. Which is what I thought while watching, unfortunately. There’s a certain ‘woe is me’ air to her character that I just didn’t enjoy, and the friendship circles she strives to become part of only add to the feeling; there was a whole, disjointed section of Celeste at a creative’s party, where we overhear conversation after conversation of characters trying to out-do each other’s pretentiousness.
In contrast, Brown as Stella is a breath of fresh, comedic air. She’s ditzy, unconsciously funny and a joy to watch in her bold outfit choices. Her online adventures in love are all too familiar to many of us and we genuinely root for her. And when Celeste lets her down, time and again, I felt equally as resentful and annoyed.
I also have to shoutout Jaime Winstone who features as Janette, a junk shop psychic, who was a funny touch. However, the scene felt forced into the story, a comedic aside in a film trying to take itself seriously.
Despite my ups and downs with the characters, the film – visually – is rather beautiful. After nearly a year of being indoors, summery London – with its brilliant sunshine, full foliage, and birdsong – was so lovely to see and made me nostalgic for pre-lockdown times. The framing and pacing is slow and steady, mirroring Celeste’s reading style and partnered with the film’s realistic style and tone, it’s an all-round satisfying, calming watch.
Having had some time to reflect on the film as a whole, I do like it. The characters are quirky, it’s nice to look at, and made me long for summer days spent with friends.