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OUT OF PARADISE (2018) review

March 19, 2019

outofparadiseposter

 

written by: Batbayar Chogsom
produced by: Batbayar Chogsom, Valerie Fischer, Urs Fitze, Cyril Gerber, Richard Grell, Simon Hesse & Susann Rüdlinger
directed by: Batbayar Chogsom
rated: not rated
runtime: 100 min.
U.S. release date: March 19, 2019 (AMC River East 21, Chicago, IL – Asian Pop-up Cinema Film Festival)

 

A humble married couple leave their modest home in the rural country and embark on a journey to locate a place the pregnant wife can deliver their baby. That sounds like a description of Mary and Joseph trying to find a manger, but “Out of Paradise”, the feature-length debut from Mongolian writer/director Batbayar Chogson offers a different take on a couple of modest means searching for the best situation for bringing a child into the world. That the story takes place in a part of the world most viewers have not visited, likely have little knowledge of, or have seldom seen on-screen certainly provides an audience with something different and unique to experience.

Set in modern day, the story follows a young nomadic couple from the Mongolian Steppe who have to leave their modest home in the country where they farm sheep, due to pregnancy complications. Dorj (Bayarsaikhan Bayartsengel) and Suren (Enerel Tumen) are a quiet and content couple who’ve been married for several years. However, they’ve had a couple miscarriages in the past that still haunt them and since this is the longest Suren has ever carried a baby, they are being extra precaucious. After a local doctor examines Suren, he tells them both that since the baby isn’t dropping and she has frequent high blood pressure, it would be best to travel into the city and receive treatment from a hospital. Realizing there’s not other way, the couple decides to make the journey to the capital, Ulaanbaatar, to seek the medical treatment Suren needs.

 

outofparadisecouple

 

In lieu of money, Dorj and Suren take along a couple sheep to use as barter along the way. A driver agrees to give all of them a ride in his truck, but they run into unforeseen when unresolved emotions surface there which causes the couple to look for alternate methods of travel, resulting in the loss of their sheep companions. When they eventually arrive at the hospital, they learn that a Caesarean delivery is needed, which will require money they don’t have as well as the official documents the hospital needs. In order to pay for the medical care, Droj leaves Suren and heads out onto the city streets in search of a way to make some money fast. A stop at the pawn shop doesn’t go very well, which lands the depressed Dorj downing vodkas at a local bar. He’s befriended by a prostitute who persuades him to partake in a local karaoke contest and when the typically shy Dorj takes the stage and croons a melancholy a capella tune, he winds up winning enough money to cover the hospital fees.

There’s much more to Chogsom’s story than what I just described. One could easily think that “Out of Paradise” is a comedy, and while there is situational humor that pops up here and there, most of the film has an aura of anxiety, fear, anger and uncertainty, which permeates throughout the film. Suren does her best to remain hopeful and patient, but Droj’s rising frustration and anger with their situation becomes problematic along their journey as he becomes hopeless and resentful. This causes them to lose their driver after Dorj gets into a senseless fight with him spawned by unfounded jealousy and paranoia. As each person they meet lend the couple assistance, more is learned about the soon-to-be-parents, making their concerns and vulnerabilities universal and quite relatable. One wonders if this arduous journey will bring the beleaguered couple closer or divide them apart.

 

outofparadiseroad

 

Since there is much more going on internally with Dorj, it makes sense that Chogsom separates the husband from his wife. Although he is a brawny fellow, his wardrobe and naivety stick out like a sore thumb among the city dwellers he encounters. Some of them aren’t as friendly and generous as the nomads and country folk they encountered on the way to the city. One cynical taxi driver (Adiyabaatar Rina) isn’t very helpful when Dorj asks where he can go to report his wallet stolen (and later on it becomes clear why he wasn’t so helpful in yet another subplot that involves the taxi driver’s mother). Some of Dorj’s encounters, like a violent altercation he gets into with some young punks who want to mug him, are inevitable and somewhat cliche for such a subplot. But in a film where most of the people Dorj meets are helpful more than they are difficult or threatening, it’s tolerable to find some predictable elements.

If it feels like Chogsom knows these characters very well, it’s probably because this is his second time bring this story to the big-screen. Back in 2015 he released a 19 minute short of the same name that offered what we can safely assume was an abbreviated version of this story. Watching this full-length feature definitely has me curious to watch that short, which would make it obvious how Chogsom expanded his story. The cast Chogsom works with in the short reunites for the feature and that no doubt lends a certain lived-in quality that the actors lend to their roles, at times almost making the film seem like a documentary.

Last June, “Out of Paradise” earned the Golden Goblet (Best Feature) award at the Shanghai International Film Festival and it was at that festival that Chinese director (and chairman of the jury) Jiang Wen, called the Switzerland/Mongolian produced film “simple but not crude” and “sincere and poetic”. I would agree. Assisted by beautiful cinematography from Simon Bitterli and reuniting with composer Urs Bollhalder, Chogsom has created a fascinating and wholly compelling story that benefits from primarily being a look at a variety of tender emotions that inevitably come with marriage.

 

outofparadisenight

RATING: ***

 

“Out of Paradise” kicks off a packed 2nd week of the 8th Season of Sophie’s Choice Asian Pop-Up Cinema at AMC River East in Chicago, Illinois and you can found out more about the festival here.

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