Taking his first steps into fiction film directing, Brazilian Marcos Prado delivers Artificial Paradises, a drug-fueled sex romp through the years as the lives of two lovers cross thanks to their mutual admiration for electronica and recreational narcotics. Narrated over three different periods, the film chronicles the comings and goings of Nando (Luca Bianchi) and Érika (Nathalia Dill), two twenty- somethings caught up in the scene of late night raves and electronic music festivals. If this sounds like a story purely for the young, it may surprise you to know it may not even suit that audience.
Opening with Nando leaving prison, the film begins on a serious note as the clear familial problems in his house between his mother and brother cause tension upon his return. Flashing back four years to a club in Amsterdam, a different story begins to take form as Nando meets Érika, a bass heavy DJ who immediately takes an interest in the young Brazilian. As the two engage in a night of passion, the film moves further back by two years to tell another story of love, this time between Érika and her girlfriend Lara (Lívia de Bueno) as they travel to a beach fronted music festival that Nando and his friend Patrick (Barnardo Melo Barreto) are also attending. This freewheeling structure may seem irritating, and at points that is certainly true, but its episodic nature actually works well to keep each thread of the character’s lives intertwined. Unfortunately, the content of these narratives is not so well handled.
The problem with attempting to accurately express a specific sub culture is that it can be difficult to wring out any truth. In the case of Artificial Paradises, it could very well be that the Brazilian electronic music scene is as drug influenced as it seems. However, when this is portrayed here, the “fun” (for lack of a better term) is missing, and instead the film is merely portraying the meaningless self-destructive nature of the young in a world that is neither attractive nor exciting to watch. At one point, a dancing raver is placed in full view with what appears to be a Pirates of the Caribbean tattoo on his back. Are we to believe this is a sign of free-spirited abandon, or just an extra with something funny to put on screen?
However, it is the characters that inhabit this environment that are the focus, and to some extent the film weaves an interesting story for its two leads. Unfortunately, the sordid details of this tale cannot be overlooked. Take Érika, who for all intensive purposes is to be seen as a free spirit. Taking peyote from a haggard stranger and pursuing bisexual relationships, she is a woman embracing her possibilities. Unfortunately, all of her expressions of freedom seem to come at the expense of her clothing. Fair enough that nudity is often a symbol of freedom, but the gratuitous nature of Prado’s direction seems more exploitative than liberating. His continuously slow pace and close photography is crude at best, leering at worst.
Nathalia Dill does well to make something of her character despite the director’s interventions, particularly in the Amsterdam scenes in which she is trying to make her relationship with Nando work. Similarly, Luca Bianchi is a consistently positive screen presence, making his character authentically conflicted. However, the script does little to add anything more than a back-story, a fact that limits the film from moving beyond its sordid exterior. A strong final act, in which Nando tries to stop his wayward brother from making the same mistakes he made, is a brief glimpse of the potential of the film if it had been less preoccupied with frivolity and more with a story of worth.
Despite its lively backdrop, Artificial Paradises lives up to its title in more ways than intended. The slow motion and blurred camerawork of Prado conveys little in the way of true expression and instead takes only a sordid look at the lives of its drug induced characters. Despite their talent, the cast is not strong enough to redeem the film from its script or director, making for a wholly shallow experience.