In Mexican helmer Yulene Olaizola’s pictorially abstract sophomore feature, a young woman freebases heroin in a rundown hotel near the sea. Venturing out, she wanders through landscapes of singularly arresting beauty, her path often crossing with that of the hotel’s fiftyish caretaker as he rakes, cuts grass or simply puffs contentedly on a joint. Drugs, the artificial paradises to which the film’s Baudelairean title refers, weave fragile connections between these two solitary souls otherwise separated by age and class. Striking juxtapositions of opulent nature and pared-down humanity could conceivably catapult the film into European arthouse play beyond the fest circuit.
Olaizola and co-scripter Fernando del Razo supply little information about the principal players in this Edenic two-hander; we never learn what the woman, Luisa (Luisa Pardo), is doing in this broken-down resort in Veracruz, or where she comes from, though she clearly seems to be a city girl. The filmmakers prove more forthcoming in disclosing backstory for caretaker Salomon (Salomon Hernandez), who readily responds to Luisa’s queries, laconically describing his dead wife and bemoaning his unfortunate addiction to alcohol.
Generally, though, the two leads share a largely silent friendship, content to contemplate the ocean or lazily hang around the hotel, smoking companionably (Luisa nervously puffing on cigarettes, Salomon calmly inhaling weed). When Luisa’s heroin stash begins to dwindle, Salomon travels with her to a nearby town in search of a new supply. When their quest proves fruitless, he matter-of-factly helps her through cold-turkey withdrawal.
In the helmer’s first film, “Shakespeare and Victor Hugo’s Intimacies,” Olaizola allowed the lurid tale of a Mexican Jack the Ripper-type lodger to overtake her otherwise innocuous docu about her grandmother. Here, conversely, a potentially sensationalistic fictive tale of drug addiction becomes entirely subsumed by documentary elements indigenous to the region, including Hernandez himself, a real-life local villager completely at home amid the vibrant greenery captured in Lisa Tillinger’s striking lensing. Tillinger manages to make her framing of figures against the rainforest’s background vistas seem fortuitous, as if wherever the characters rambled or chose to stop automatically produced images of incomparable richness and harmony.
In the absence of much human drama, the rolling ocean tides, cow-dotted hills and branches of overhead trees start to assume the coloration of a mysterious narrative, traversed only occasionally by people-centric anecdotes like the story of the female tourist who ingested magic mushrooms and swam far out to sea.