Being trapped by a stranger’s home movies might ordinarily feel akin to the Ludovico treatment from A Clockwork Orange, but director Michael Almereyda’s exquisite scrapbook of lyrical vérité surprises—modestly recorded over a decade in nine different countries as he worked on other films/traveled, and then expertly curated—makes for both high art and rousing entertainment. Though he’s still best known for his cracked, contemporary Hamlet, Almereyda has long toyed with the rough-hewn textures of consumer DV (1994’s Nadja largely utilized the PixelVision camcorder), and the lo-fi immediacy of his occasionally auto-focused pixilation here feels purposeful, not amateurish. Rigorously edited so that no sequences run too indulgent and each smoothly fades into the next, this hodgepodge captures the expanse of human reactions.
We watch a lot of people—many wide-eyed kids—as they watch something/someone else, and that something/someone else is often the ordinary made extraordinary by Almereyda’s skilled eye. Iranian children in dress clothes play around a shallow pool until one falls in. Chaos ensues, but Almereyda keeps his camera on the kid, who, in the distance, is trying not to cry. Later, at a raucous Sonic Youth show, Almereyda zeroes in, not on the unruly crowd, but on the band, fumbling around onstage like befuddled roadies, trying to get their microphones working. Friends rally for fireworks that get lost in the L.A. skyline, and Colin Farrell continues smoking a cigarette even after Terrence Malick starts rolling on the set of The New World. Steadily maintaining momentum and a meditative mood without narration or editorialization is itself a feat, but more vitally, Paradise appreciates and shares the curious mysteries in the seemingly banal.