Directed by Miguel Gomes
Set half in present-day Lisbon and half in Africa during the Portuguese Colonial War, Gomes's follow-up to his sublime Our Beloved Month of August belongs entirely to a hushed, choked world of faded idylls and endless purgatories. After a mysterious, foreshadowing prologue, the film splits into two sections, the first titled "Paradise Lost" and the second "Paradise." In the former Gomes indeed envisions Lisbon as a way station of tarnished grace, where gentle, pious activist Pilar (Teresa Madruga) oversees the final days of her elderly neighbor Aurora (Laura Soveral), a heavily medicated gambler and abandoned mother slowly succumbing to senility. As experienced through Pilar's humble Catholicism, the city and its lonely inhabitants—young, ungrateful Polish missionaries, taciturn Cape Verdean maids, unrequited modernist painters—become living ghosts wandering in and out of cinematographer Rui Poças' stark, unsentimental black-and-white compositions.
Despite a truncated narrative that unfairly jettisons Pilar and several subplots, "Paradise Lost" rewards viewers in mood and, retroactively, thematic parallelisms; as narrated by Gian Luca Ventura (Henrique Espírito Santo), a man with whom Aurora surprisingly requests contact, "Paradise" is near perfect. Ventura's voiceover performs the heavy expository lifting in lieu of dialogue or much diegetic sound, telling the story of his affair as a dashing young ruffian (Carloto Cotta) with headstrong young Aurora (Ana Moreira), heiress to a farm at the base of Mount Tabu in the 1960s. The story itself is predictable—stifled by a boring marriage and pregnancy, Aurora falls in love with Ventura and subsequently ruins their lives—yet it achieves vividness as an eerie reverie, with sharp glimpses of colonial rot and encroaching nature clashing against Ventura's wistful musings and Spector-stamped pop gems. Put together, "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise" produce an ironic moral about the lasting legacy of political resignation and romantic regret, but also—and just as important—a lush invocation of damaged longings and memories.
Opens December 26