Departing from a short story by Mexican writer Julieta Arevalo, and with the support of the very progressive Mexican production company Canana -owned by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal - Mariana Chenillo’s sophomore feature is a breath of fresh air both in the romantic comedy genre as well as in the modern state of Mexican cinema. The national film industry has seen an emergence of “indie-style” films, and Chenillo’s piece fits rightfully in the spectrum of New Independent Mexican Cinema - a new movement of stories that certainly represent the many facets of the country.
Paraiso (Paradise) is the delightful story of Carmen (Daniela Rincon) an overweight upper middle class woman who is married to Alfredo (Andres Almeida), who is also overweight, and lives in the affluent suburb know as Satelite just outside Mexico City. The couple decides to leave their save haven and follow Alfredo’s career when he is offered a better job in the city. Not only must Carmen adapt to her new surroundings, but it seems that for the first time her physical appearance is a problem for her. Determined to shred some pounds, Carmen joins a for-profit weight loss help center, at first reluctant, her husband and biggest enabler, joins her in the struggle to get in shape. But when Alfredo's figure changes and starts attracting other women, a jealous Carmen rebelliously joins a cooking class, a move that will teach her more about herself and her real passion.
Chenillo had more than enough chances to turn the story into a run-of-the-mill tale. However, there is something special about Paraiso, the outstanding honesty and wholeheartedness infused into the story set the film apart from the crowd. The incredible chemistry between the leads is wondrous and endearing, the actors make it easy to believe the love between their characters is deeply rooted beyond their physical appearance. Particularly superb is Daniela Rincon as Carmen, a performance that rings truthful from beginning to end, never condescending or pitiful about her condition, but rather empowering at exposing the fact that her weight doesn’t define who she is. There is a great sense of naturalism and organic development in her performance, and achievement that emerges from her talent and that of Chenillo as a director.
Sporting GAP sweatshirts and going around shopping malls, the characters in the film also represent a side of Mexico often unseen internationally: the Middle Class. Straying from the depiction of poverty and cartel warfare usually associate with the Latin American nation, Mariana Chenillo’s film portrays a reality that is much closer to a big a portion of the population. Her characters’ problems are not of the primal type, but those of a group of people affected by a globalized economy that are not only trying to survived but to be fulfilled in their lives. Still, even then, the story never feels generic or unfocused, it hits all the right points about love, discrimination, obesity, diet crazes, and finding the right path. All of these are approached with a sweet dose of comedy and charm. Paraiso is a smart, warm, and entertaining film that for all its crowd-pleasing intentions also packs crucial, not preaching, social commentary.