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Review: Lost in Paradise


- Fiona Ziegler’s film is an irreverent comedy about a character caught between two cultures and two worlds which he can’t escape and which he no longer wishes to

Review: Lost in Paradise
Dominique Jann and Hana Vagnerová in Lost in Paradise

Presented in a world premiere during this year’s Solothurn Film Festival where it’s currently in the running for the Audience Award, young Swiss director Fiona Ziegler’s debut feature film Lost in Paradise takes us on a journey between Prague and Bern by way of the ups and downs of a thirty-year-old musician called Evžen (played by Dominique Jann), who’s wrestling with personal ambitions, but also family duties which he doesn’t have the slightest intention of adhering to.

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Fiona Ziegler is more than familiar with the Czech Republic, being that she was the first Swiss national and, more broadly, the first director from Western Europe, to be accepted into Prague’s prestigious Film Academy. She was selected from among hundreds of candidates eager to make it onto the film direction course which only has room for six students. Lost in Paradise might partly be considered the filmic transposition of her lived experience, a transcription into images of the difficult co-existence of two worlds and two cultures which sometimes seem to be battling it out for pride of place.

Evžen has left Switzerland to live in Prague, a city which his father himself left back in 1968. Evžen wants to get a taste of the bohemian life which his family believes to be pointless, a life characterised by uncertainty - there’s no doubt about that - but also by great autonomy and freedom. His passion for music leads him to open a club, The Venere, which welcomes a diverse crowd of colourful characters intent on experiencing the present intensely before it fades away with the rising of the sun. His situation changes dramatically when a fire burns his club to the ground. This unexpected event leads Evžen to make a radical decision: he will return to Bern to ask his family to fund the rebuilding of The Venere. Given that he doesn’t have insurance and is pinned against the ropes by a landlord impervious to compromise, our protagonist has no other choice. Confronted with a family he no longer understands (and whom he might never have truly understood), Evžen feels backed into a corner and is forced to follow the rules of a sterile middle-class society which he finds to be suffocating. Nevertheless, our idealist antihero strives to keep his dreams of independence and freedom alive.

The first co-production to be agreed exclusively between the Czech Republic and Switzerland, Lost in Paradise is steeped in the distinguishing features of these two nations, which have more in common that you might assume. An ode to the “grotesque charm of the middle-classes”, Fiona Ziegler’s first film is partly based on her own experiences (she describes the film as partly autobiographical), composed of surreal anecdotes (did she really meet a man who carried a small crocodile in his suitcase on the journey between Prague and Switzerland?) and wider reflections on the precariousness of life as an artist in a world revolving around the notion of a “steady job”.

Marked by humour which, at times, feels highly formulaic but which the cinema audience seemed to quite like, Lost in Paradise depicts a character lost between two worlds, a hyper-sensitive being who is trying to map out his own path unfettered by the social obligations of a society obsessed with stability. Notwithstanding a pretty meagre love story, Evžen’s journey seems tailor-made for cinematic adaptation, a surreal journey where dreams and reality finally appear to come together.

Lost in Paradise is produced by Cinémotif Films (Czech Republic) and Cognito Films (Switzerland) in co-production with Switzerland’s FAMU. International rights are managed by Cinémotif Films, FAMU and Catpics AG.

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(Translated from Italian)

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