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France / French Polynesia

Paul Manate • Director of Paradise

"In Tahiti, there is a respect for ancestral beliefs: ghosts, the powers of the Tahu’a, taboos"

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- France's Paul Manate talks about his first feature Paradise, shot in Tahiti and mixing ancestral magic together with contemporary realism, against a background of political and economic corruption

Paul Manate  • Director of Paradise

Launched directly on VOD by UFO Distribution and Premium Films on 24 May due to the health crisis preventing its planned theatrical release, Paradise [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Paul Manate
film profile
]
is Paul Manate’s first feature film.

Cineuropa: What was the starting point for the story of Paradise?
Paul Manate: One of my cousins was called Yasmina, just like the character played by Blanche-Neige Huri. She was a bit like the Yasmina of the film: round, very heavyset. She had come from the island of Rurutu to live with us when I was eight years old. She lived painful years with us because she didn’t manage to work at school but she loved doing the dishes, cleaning the house, etc. The two of us had a strange relationship because we were very different, me being a “demi”, meaning mixed-raced, since my mother was Tahitian and my father was from the French continent. It is from my memories of her that I created the character and this encounter with her cousin, who is kind of a double of me, even if I am a lot less mean than he is. It’s the opposition between a character who is corrupt, and another who is closer to nature, more pure, and all the locations in the film are places from my childhood. Then, when I began writing, I integrated elements from contemporary Tahiti: the character of Gilot is inspired by Gaston Flosse, the story about the hotel and the stolen land is real, etc. I mixed contemporary stories with memories from my childhood. And the real Yasmina was also telling me Tahitian stories to help me fall asleep, including the one that opens the film.

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What about the strange powers of Tahu’a which Yasmina has inherited?
In Tahiti, people are very religious. There is a large majority of protestants, but also catholics, mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Adventists… However, there is also a respect for ancestral beliefs: ghosts, the powers of Tahu’a, taboos. A Tahu’a is a kind of sorcerer who is very knowledgeable about his field: there is the Tahu’a healer with plants, the Tahu’a of navigation with stars, etc. It used to be that in each Polynesian district, each clan chief was accompanied by his Tahu’a who would decide on laws and prohibitions imposed on the community. Just in passing, in FW Murnau’s film Tabu: A Story of the South Seas, the Tahu’a plays a very important role.

The character of Teivi is a parliamentary attaché. How far did you want to develop the political aspect of the film?
I wanted it to remain a simple context. Actually, when the script was being read at the financing stage, it was a little disconcerting because it touched on several topics. What I was the most interested in was the lost paradise and Teivi’s journey, his relationship with the land, with this island he crosses in his search for his cousin, but also his path of redemption. The political intrigue which takes a lot of space at the beginning of the film disappears little by little, then returns at the end. However, this political and social reality with a great number of corruption cases is part of the Tahitian landscape and I didn’t want to soften that, even if it wasn’t the film’s main topic.

How did you handle the casting, with the majority of non-professional actors and a few professionals, such as German actor Sebastian Urzendowsky?
I had filmed a short film in 2008 with Sebastian in which he already played the role of a Tahitian Métis. I always had him in mind when I was writing Paradise because beyond not only does he have the physical appearance of a "demi", he also has a bit of a Tahitian accent ; and people have a lot of strange accents. On location, I met other potential Teivis, but I couldn’t let go of Sebastian. He and Patrick Descamps, who were the only two professional actors on the film, had to adapt — and it wasn’t easy — to the spontaneity, the freshness and sometimes the fragility of non-professional actors who had done a lot of workshops with me before the shoot.

How did the funding work out?
We obtained an advance on receipts from the CNC in the summer of 2016, but one more year was necessary afterwards to complete funding. TV channels did not want to participate because the film does not have stars. Moreover, the advantage and the disadvantage of the film is its setting, because Tahiti was attracting people instinctively but did not offer any points of cinematic comparison, and distributors always need to identify things. But the Brittany region, the Tahiti territory, a co-production from Anaphi, the support of a small Sofica and of France Ô allowed us to go all the way.

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(Translated from French)

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