A series of slow-moving takes propelled by the gusty winds of its serene coastal landscapes, the Mexican film Artificial Paradises portrays the unlikely relationship between two very bored people. The film opens with an unapologetically long shot of Salomón (Salomón Hernandez) staring up at the trees, while Luisa (Luisa Pardo) gazes at the ocean smoking a cigarette, oblivious to the cattle crossing in front of her. This is an atemporal place where the noises outnumber the people, and the views are so beautiful any human action is bound to look perverse by comparison. For several minutes there are only sounds, not a single word. Life consists of plowing the land, swinging inside a hammock, embracing a stray cat, and guessing whether or not it’s going to rain tonight.
Soon Salomón and Luisa meet and strike a conversation about smoking. He’s managed to trade tobacco and crack for a good old joint; she’s looking for some heroin. “Some say marijuana is my woman,” he tells her after we learn his wife has died of a heart attack and he has promptly reallocated the funds that would otherwise have gone to feeding and clothing her to buying weed. Luisa quickly sees in Salomón an opportunity to hit rock bottom in the hopes of being then saved from self-destruction. He’s willing to help and agrees to lock her inside her room so she’s unable to get her fix. It’s as if she’s ready to shift positions once somebody at least acknowledges her condition.
The juxtaposition between the gorgeous natural beauty of a remote beach with the stubborn human need to escape somewhere, no matter what cost, is what really enthralls in Paraísos Artificiales. The film also has a consistent documentary-like hyper-realist style that echoes Pedro Costa’s Colossal Youth and Ossos. It knows not to reveal much, to show only what it sees, and yet it manages to suggest very well the severity and urgency of the abyss that always lies beneath the surface.