What if all the women in your life were gathered in one room?” someone says during “Paradiso — Seven Days With Seven Women,” and, with this interesting premise, prolific German helmer Rudolf Thome, who has never broken through to the North American arthouse market, could see those fortunes change. With a little TLC, specialized theatrical prospects are excellent for a technically polished, emotionally complex item that blends the economic moral explorations of early Eric Rohmer with the wry humor of recent Woody Allen.
Mischievously programmed by the Berlin fest brain trust to world preem on Valentine’s Day, pic is a serene, provocative meditation on time and love told from the viewpoint of a self-centered yet much-loved composer, Adam (Hanns Zischler). He takes the opportunity of his 60th birthday to gather the seven most influential women of his life around him for interaction and reflection.
Adam invites the women to spend a week with him at his secluded lakeside house to celebrate his birthday. There’s his current wife, Eva (Cora Frost), and their two children, who live four hours away in Berlin so Adam has his space to compose and tend his garden. Vivacious second wifeLulu (Adriana Altaras) is now an actress, and warmly somber first wife Berenice (Irm Hermann), with whom Adam has an angry, estranged son, Billy (Guntram Brattia), is now a nun.
Also along are a quartet of women with whom he’s had various, often overlapping affairs and flings, including lit student Marion (Khyana El Bitar), opera singer Lucia (Isabel Hindersin), Jacqueline (Amelie zur Muhlen) and Lilith (Sabine Bach). Rounding out the party is Billy’s incredulous wife, Katherina (Valeska Hanel), their children and Adam’s banker, Rolf (Marquard Bohm).
Propelled by Adam’s reflective inner monologue and the various social events and expeditions he and Eva have organized for their guests, pic overcomes the charges of misogyny that have plagued Thome throughout his 30-year-plus career by balancing the wistful envy of the women (“You’re living in paradise,” someone says, “what did you do to deserve it?”) with the price Adam’s had to pay for his privacy and independence.
The week gets under way with Billy knocking Adam over the head with a tree branch for his lifetime of neglect, and few of the worshipful gathered even mention sex, much less sneak off to a guest bedroom. Instead, the guests make Adam guess which gift is from which woman (he does OK), he busses them to a recital featuring a new work, and they visit a fortuneteller, who reveals to Adam that he may meet someone new. Contempo feel of action is heightened by references to German minister of foreign affairs Joschka Fischer, the war in Kosovo and even the solar eclipse that occurred during the August-September 1999 shoot.
Tech credits are polished, with the location work in the lake district of Mecklenburg-Pommerania given a crisp, lulling beauty by lenser Reinhold Vorschneider.
Pic’s sprawling, uniformly excellent cast, almost all of whom have worked with Thome previously, was awarded a Berlin Silver Bear for outstanding achievement, underscoring the balance and thought given to each character by Thome and the level of synchronicity achieved by pic as a whole.