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Paradise Grove (2002)

Courtesy of Paradise Grove Ltd

Main image of Paradise Grove (2002)
35mm, colour, 93 mins
DirectorCharles Harris
Production CompanyParadise Grove plc
ProducerDavid Castro
ScreenplayCharles Harris
PhotographyMiles Cook
MusicRoddy Skeaping

Cast: Ron Moody (Izzie Goldberg), Rula Lenska (Dee Perry), Leyland O'Brien (Keith Perry), Lee Blakemore (Kim Wright), Andy Lucas (Garrison Moss), John Cunningham (Dr Norman)

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Mixed-race teenager Keith is a disappointment to his glamorous mother. Dedicated to his live-in job at Paradise Grove, a home for elderly Jewish people, he turns a deaf ear to her persistent nagging. Keith's only interest is exploring his Jewish identity. Then a beautiful stranger arrives on their doorstep.

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Paradise Grove, the first feature film from TV documentary director Charles Harris, is a sharply observed, witty exploration of an unconventional but recognisable modern family. Teenager Keith is trying to pick his way through an identity maze. He wants to embrace and be embraced by his Jewish culture, but life was never going to be that simple. He is mixed-race with no contact to his Black father, the relationships he has with his mother and grandfather are overshadowed by disappointment and historic resentments, and careening towards him with a loaded gun and even more teenage confusion is the embarrassing prospect of his first proper sexual relationship. Drop all this in the middle of an eccentric Jewish retirement home and the result is an engaging, unpredictable comedy. That Keith remains an empathetic character underpins the success of the film, and the beautifully drawn, vivacious performances from Rula Lenska as the mother and Ron Moody as the cantankerous, ailing grandfather make the drama sparkle.

The film tackles big issues: race, religion and sex feature strongly. It also poses questions about the treatment of the elderly in care homes and the controversial subject of euthanasia. Keith accepts the limitations of his life; he has no ambition, not even to be happy, which actually seems like the sensible option considering the desperation of the world around him. Izzie, the King Lear of the lingerie trade, is, on the other hand, deliriously bitter at his fate. Both need to break out of the debilitating stasis of their condition but cannot do it without help. Where Keith thinks that salvation will be found in reinforcing family and cultural ties, Izzie is the rebel striking out for his independence. This contrast of desire and expectation plays throughout the film and through all the characters, even the minor ones. One example is the scene in which Izzie, Keith and Dee reminisce about the past. None of them quite recognises each other's memories; shared family history reveals the gulf at the heart of human relations. They cannot know each other because they can only see their own reflections.

Cinematographer Miles Cook makes visual sense of the small universe of Paradise Grove. This is a very attractive looking film - bathed in a cloudless light more akin to American films rather than typically British social dramas.

Ann Ogidi

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Video Clips
1. A Christian putz (2:52)
2. You vultures! (3:10)
3. Family memories (1:46)
4. Carolina's bloke (4:11)
Song of Songs (2005)
Moody, Ron (1924-)