Once in a while, a thoroughly decent feature will inexplicably slip through the distribution net and find itself unceremoniously dumped onto home video with little promotion or fanfare. Artificial Paradises (not to be confused with the 2011 Mexican feature of the same name) is one of those films. It doesn’t help that it’s being marketed as a drug-smuggling drama, either. In reality, this element is barely touched upon (the trailer gives the impression it’s some kind of sweaty-palmed, downbeat Midnight Express-like effort). There are darker elements inherent in the film, but it’s counterbalanced by a sexy and sensual vibe.
With a story that cuts back and forth over the span of several years, we first meet Nando (Luca Bianchi) fresh out of prison and trying to reconnect with his family and younger brother Lipe (Cesar Cardadeiro). The film then switches between the years before Nando’s incarceration, where he meets and falls in love with Erika (Nathalia Dill), a fellow Brazilian in Amsterdam who has carved out a successful career as an international DJ. Prior to this, the action flashes back to Erika travelling around her homeland, as both her and best friend Lara (Livia de Bueno) expand their minds and sexual boundaries together before hitting an electro festival. Also in attendance there is Nando, and a drug-fuelled incident offers a fateful twist.
Artificial Paradises is the directorial debut of producer Marcos Prado (Elite Squad), and he manages to capture that hedonistic clubbing milieu in all its euphoric glory. Cutting between the lush Brazilian beach communities of Recife with the cold Dutch capital offers a rich visual contrast, and Prado injects a real warmth and believability into his characters and their plight. Narrative momentum does almost grind to a halt once both story threads have reached their climax, and Nando’s attempts at keeping his impressionable sibling on the straight and narrow feels a mite tacked on, but these are only mild missteps. Artificial Paradises has an ambition and scope which is largely missing from your usual DTV fare, and those taking a punt may find themselves pleasantly surprised.