Stranger in Paradise :: In Which He Tells All of Us How It Is…

Cineville - Stranger in Paradise

Stranger in Paradise is an astonishing film and when I say that it's like nothing I've ever seen before, I'm not being hyperbolic. Watch this trailer for an idea of the tone. It won't spoil anything. It'll just give you a flavour.

So the film documents a series of encounters in a refugee detention centre on the Italian island of Lampedusa. It takes place in stark white classrooms where refugees from many of the world's most notorious war zones are told in very direct language exactly what they can expect now that they have arrived in Europe.

The person speaking to them and ultimately deciding whether they can stay in Europe or will have to return to their own countries is not, to my recollection, given a name but it is the same man throughout the film and he is at times devastatingly, brutally frank and at other times heart-rendingly compassionate.

Spoilers will follow the image below. You have been warned.

Cineville - Stranger in Paradise

So Stranger in Paradise is a documentary with a difference, and I do believe my enjoyment of the film was probably increased by not knowing what that difference was, until it was explained in an epilogue, which came as a complete shock. So if you'd like to replicate that experience, begone.

The difference is a twist that's kind of like the second twist in Collateral Beauty, in that it makes you re-evaluate everything you've just seen, except in Collateral Beauty it was a gross, rather offensive insult, and in Stranger In Paradise, it feels like a stroke of genius.

The twist is that the official at the centre conducting these lectures and deciding who will stay and who will not is actually played by a Dutch actor, Valentin Dhaenens. The refugees are all real, however, as are their stories and their responses to his questions. They weren't tricked in any way. They were asked to take part in a documentary and they did so willingly.

The result is a film that spells out every conceivable argument about European immigration policy and elucidates both sides really quite brilliantly.

Valentin Dhaenens gives a phenomenal performance and the film is absolutely charged with emotion throughout. I'm a big old hippy, namby-pamby wet liberal socialist and I believe there should be no borders at all and that nobody in need should ever be turned away, but the arguments put in the film when Dhaenens is playing Bad Cop in the first act (subtitled In Which He Tells Them How It Is) are put so lucidly and so persuasively that it's difficult to disagree with them. It's also difficult not to despise Dhaenens for putting them so bluntly and coldly. It's in this section he tells the refugees to go home and organise a revolution. We don't want you, he tells them.

In the second act (subtitled In Which He Tells Them How It Is Again), he puts entirely the opposite view with equal passion, praising them for their courage rather than damning them for their cowardice, and pointing out that seven separate studies have all shown that if Europe had open borders, its economy would grow by $34 trillion.

In Act III (The Immigration Game), there are some moments of laughter, albeit utterly tragic laughter as one refugee argues that he needs to be allowed to stay in Europe because his kettle was stolen and he wants to live somewhere where he is allowed express himself in song. Then it becomes even more strange as Dhaenens starts giving out residence permits like a reality TV show host telling the contestants who can stay and who has to go home. How close all of this is to reality I cannot say, but there is an excellent interview with the filmmaker here that suggests it's very close indeed. 

A brilliant, ingenious, innovative film. Find it. Watch it. Talk about it. Thank your lucky stars.


Cineville - Stranger in Paradise


The Viewing

This was the first time I've been to see a film in a cinema and been the only person in there. All the way through. Just me. When the young woman outside the zaal took my ticket, she warned me that there was nobody else inside. I was slightly confused as to why she'd told me, or maybe it was the way she said it. Then she explained: 'Some people don't like to be the only one.'

I told her I didn't mind, although it seems a bit of a shame because it looks like a very interesting film. She agreed it was indeed an interesting film, as she had seen it, and just for a moment I wished she was a little nearer my age and just a tad friendlier so I could ask her for English lessons without appearing like some kind of pervert in sheep's clothing. Instead I sighed, went inside and, when the film was over, thanked my lucky stars. 

About the Author

I am Karl Webster. I wrote these words. If you liked them, you’ll be overjoyed to know that there are plenty more where they came from. So you should definitely sign up to my newsletter if you haven’t already.

Leave a Reply 0 comments