Artificial Paradises from 2011 starts with long, slow closeups – a girl smoking, cattle wandering along a beach. There is no dialogue to break the flow of languid images showing the verdant landscape around Veracruz in Mexico. No one speaks for so long that you wonder if this is a silent film, but eventually there is speech – not before we have discovered that our heroine is a junkie. That first speech tells us that the male lead is a Christian and so the film is set up.
Mexican director Yulene Olaizola has created an hypnotic film in her first feature. Cinematographer Luisa Tillinger uses beautifully framed shots that can last for seemingly ages – there’s no jump-cutting MTV here, the viewer can sink into the frame and wallow in the long takes. The film’s sense of colour is also strong, whether we are seeing an outdoor veranda or a blue canister being carried across a beach.
The two main characters bond over their love of smoking. To some eyes they already live in paradise, but they still feel the need to escape to Baudelaire’s artificial paradise even though they don’t live in a grimy Paris. Coming out of the director’s experience of having a friend suffering addiction the script feels real, the actors adding to the sense with two measured performances. The director’s previous work has been in documentary and this approach comes over strongly. There are pieces to camera and handheld shots, but the take-away memory is of well-framed, endless, still examinations of the landscape and people of this part of Mexico. Some shots do over stay their welcome but at 80 minutes long this is not a real issue. Artificial Paradises shows that films do not need to be long or densely plotted to be intriguing. Neither do they have to feature guns or gangsters.