Natural High

03/28/2012 4:00 AM |

Artificial Paradises

Directed by Yulene Olaizola

A small-scale study in dependency, Artificial Paradises takes place during the offseason at a rustic beachfront resort in Veracruz, Mexico, where the rainforests extend almost to the edge of the sea. Luisa (Luisa Pardo), glimpsed smoking around the property in a meditative crouch, a scarf wrapped loosely around her neck, has holed up here for reasons that are not explicitly given but presumably related to her heroin addiction—in her room, she scours a piece of tinfoil, lighter in hand, for trace amounts of chiva. Either she plans to hide out from problems precipitated by her habit, or else attempt to kick it altogether, but the frayed Luisa eventually asks the inn’s much-older groundskeeper, Salomón (Salomón Hernández), where she might replenish her supply. Salomón, who is himself constantly smoking a joint (though he quit cigarettes after he chewed three of them, and “almost died from that heartburn”), helps her as best he can. She’s amused by him, and the film tracks a deepening mutual understanding, as their isolation is reflected in, and Luisa’s desperation is compounded by, the under-the-weather landscape.

Non-pro Hernández is an amazing screen presence, and he anchors Artificial Paradises (the title references Baudelaire), with his work shirt open and his bloodshot eyes often aimed at the sky. On a few occasions, director Yulene Olaizola has him address the camera, each time being more of an apparent fourth-wall break than the last (the first time this happens, he might be telling a story to an off-screen friend; the next, he’s working, and no one else seems to be around); as a result, the character of Salomón slowly takes on an almost bardic aspect. In lesser hands, Artificial Paradises (co-written by Olaizola and Fernando del Razo, and masterfully shot by Lisa Tillinger) might have been formally unstable, and too schematic about the varieties of substance abuse, instead of the most broodingly serene addiction movie you’ll ever see.

Opens March 30