Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Shortlisted Short Doc: Paraiso

Maybe this really is the sort of work Americans just won’t do.  Every day immigrant window washers make some of Chicago’s tallest skyscrapers sparkle.  It is a well paid gig, but one with obvious risks.  Three such workers ruminate on their job and wider issues of mortality in Nadav Kurtz’s Paraíso (trailer here), which is one of eight films to make the Academy’s short documentary shortlist.

Paraíso is sure to have its champions amongst those who see it as a handy tool to use to advance this or that piece of immigration legislation.  However, none of Kurtz’s subjects ever mentions the Dream Act.  In fact, they have no real complaints about America, nor do they explicitly establish their legal employment status.  Their concerns, as recorded by the Israeli-born Kurtz, are deeper, more metaphysical.  It is questions like the existence of god and life-after-death that preoccupy them, especially as they are about to dangle themselves hundreds of feet in the air.

Whether or not their philosophizing engages the viewer, Paraíso can be enjoyed on a level similar to one of the History Channel’s extreme jobs reality shows.  The aerial cinematography, credited to Kurtz, Christopher Markos, Jay Patton, and Andrew Wehde, is pretty spectacular.  Frankly, it is worth reviewing just to have an excuse to post some of the cool stills.

Technically, Paraíso is quite an achievement, but it is unlikely to radically shift anyone’s perspective on life or the hereafter.  Still, it certainly suggests Kurtz may well be a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on, especially considering he co-edited Dan Pritzker’s hopefully forthcoming Bolden!, the companion film to his under-appreciated silent jazz bio-pic Louis!

The short documentary category often produces underwhelming slates of nominees, so the Academy could probably do far worse than Paraíso.  At least it is easily watchable, clocking in with a ten minute running time.  Cool looking but hardly revelatory, Paraíso should have plenty of festival life ahead of it.