In Rocco Ricciardulli’s Italian movie The Last Paradiso, a married Ciccio Paradiso (Riccardo Scamarcio, who also wrote this film with Ricciardulli) has an affair with Bianca Schettino (Gaia Bermani Amaral), the daughter of a pitiless landlord named Cumpà Schettino (Antonio Gerardi). When someone asks Ciccio if he loves his wife Lucia (Valentina Cervi), he replies with a “yes”. However, he has no love left to give to Lucia. Whatever romance blossoms, it blossoms between Ciccio and Bianca. He spends days and nights tucked in her arms and returns home as if it’s a chore. On one occasion, his son sets out searching for him, leaving his mother worried (a neighbour brings him back). Apparently, the whole town is aware of Ciccio’s affair. He couldn’t care less. If Ciccio has his family protesting against the liaison, Bianca has a sister who objects to it. “Bianca, you’re playing with fire. I mean, Ciccio is married, and he has two children,” says her sister. Ciccio may have been a promiscuous man, but now he is really in love with Bianca. Bianca knows Ciccio is married, but she loves him too. The feeling is mutual. Their act of lovemaking is filmed without vulgarity. The tenderness of sunlight falls with grace on the two bodies as if attempting to build heaven around them. Since heaven cannot be constructed in this hell, they plan to leave the town and start anew.
This is one side of Ciccio’s life. Flip the coin, and you will see a passionate, indefatigable defender of justice. He stands up for the poor, demanding their rights. He brazenly speaks against the unfair system in which the one sitting on the higher ground walks away with maximum profit while the workers are left to live on the bare minimum. Cumpà is one of those people who sit on the higher ground. A savage, Cumpà also sexually assaults minors in the stables. Copulating with the daughter of a devil like this is a gamble. It’s good that Ciccio is unafraid of taking risks. With all these details, one can guess where The Last Paradiso is headed. It even goes in that direction but then “something” happens. You get a premonition before this “something,” and yet it shakes you as it unfolds on screen. Its gruesome nature is definitely one of the reasons for repulsion. The Last Paradiso drifts to a different mood from here, one that was not expected by a mile. What appeared to be mainstream (an affair, an odious landlord, a daredevil protagonist challenging the villains, a love story) discloses an art-house underlay.
After the first “something,” you form another roadmap for the film. The Last Paradiso meets your new expectations for a while, and then, like before, you again get another premonition followed by a second “something” followed by another drift. It’s here I understood that The Last Paradiso is actually about male anger and how it burns everyone around it, especially the women in their lives. Ciccio’s family and Bianca suffer from the actions of his rage. Cumpà’s daughters (Bianca again) suffer due to his temper. A man’s ego can be as large as the water bodies on our planet. They are more willing to chop off their heads than settle for peace if it comes at the cost of bending their necks. Ciccio won’t stop seeing Bianca, and Cumpà won’t refrain from his corrupt habits. The men are not in the mood to back off from their practices.
Toxic testosterone aside, The Last Paradiso is also about living with and through the suffering. As clichéd as it may sound, to reach the light, you first need to go through the dingy tunnel. The Last Paradiso gets messy. It often fails to segue smoothly from one section to another. There are times when one feels as if one is watching a combination of two different films. It happens in the earlier portions when the film shifts from Ciccio’s affair to his fight against poverty. By the last stretch, it enters into a fantastical realm. I am not sure how many viewers will sit through The Last Paradiso, but I am always glad to come across a film that discards a traditional narrative to take a chance on an unusual experiment. The Last Paradiso serves as a reminder that an imperfect venture will always rule over mundane perfection.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.