Maria’s Paradise (Zaida Bergroth, Finland/Estonia) — Contemporary World Cinema

By Anna Swanson

Director Zaida Bergroth’s film about a clairvoyant cult leader is unable to see that its strongest aspects are woefully underserved. The eponymous Maria (Pihla Viitala) is the leader of a religious sect who presents herself as having been visited by an angel that bestowed her with second sight. One of her most obedient followers, Salome (Satu Tuuli Karhu), is an orphaned teenage girl who feels abandoned and looks to Maria as a mother figure—that is, until she meets Malin (Saga Sarkola, delivering an exceptional performance), a teenager living on the street who joins Maria’s cohort for protection and a roof over her head. Malin is unconvinced by Maria’s claims and attempts to draw Salome away from her beguiling pseudo-mother, initiating a tug of war. Salome and Malin’s shared scenes are among the film’s best, but their relationship is underdeveloped: had the film devoted more time to exploring their dynamic—perhaps by teasing out the hints that their connection is more than platonic—it could have offered genuine insight into the ways that each of them cope with trauma by turning to others for guidance. Unfortunately, Maria’s Paradise is often both distracted and distracting, never committed enough to its central character study and possessing an anachronistic electronic score that wears out its welcome. From the outset, it’s clear that the film’s paradise will be lost—it’s just a shame the fall isn’t more compelling.

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