World premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival American Paradise tells the true story of a series of robberies within Trumps America.
Director Joe Talbot takes a dark comedic approach to the film, starting with long shots of awkward scene featuring three black men. The men begin to discuss worth within the world, as they listen to the cries of joy from a passing boat. This long but centered shot makes the audience feel grounded in our characters as they continue their discussion. This film has a lot of interested camera angles and shots. Most shots are taken from far away, like across the street or at the beginning of an alley. Then they do a close up following that shot, like in the car or sitting on the couch. What works really well throughout the whole film is Talbot’s use of color. A choice of bold contrasting colors set the characters apart, though all the colors in a scene seem to play off one another. For example, a yellow wall next to a man dressed in all beige with green toys scattered in the background. This can even be seen in the title page of the film, where all warm colors are used. Though Albert himself is always dressed plainly with lack of color.
The story of Albert is a meant to be a life lesson, as well as show us Talbot’s stance on the political climate within America. Albert, who has seemed to live a pretty normal unfulfilled life, decides to take his destiny into his own hands by dressing up and assuming the identity of a black man. What he doesn’t realize is by entering into this new body, he is exposing himself to the “customs and expectations” of a black man in American society. Talbot uses this strange opportunity to show the audience the terrible treatment sustained throughout history towards black men and women. We discover society’s tendency to racially profile and see firsthand the injustice many people of color deal with every day, through Albert.
Though this film deals with real problems and prejudices, it also has an interesting take on dark comedy. As we watch and learn about Albert’s life we discover Talbot’s incredible use of cringe worthy comedy. His subtle but effective writing through the film makes the audience laugh uncomfortably. This is mostly done through the narration which starts our story off. Our narrator, a wise older black man, tries to educate his younger friends, and when doing so isn’t afraid to add a little humor here or there. Some of my favorite moments in the film were when he awkwardly introduced us to new things, such as lines like “…and he lived across from, well…well, a pile of shit.” Albert’s face is blank is the camera pans to a large orange landfill in his back yard. “Just a pile of shit, like some dinosaur had risen up and just taking a poopoo, he couldn’t smell it anymore anyway.” Or when after the whole story has been told, the younger black man doesn’t’ even see how it connects to his problem whatsoever. These moments are sprinkled throughout the film, and add to the incredible nature of this story.
Let’s not forget how smart this film is. On multiple occasions connections from the three men in the beginning can be linked to Albert’s escapades. Whether it is a small detail, like both men wanting more in life, or a large political statement, like the small box Albert works in symbolizing the stereotyping within modern society, this film’s goal is to send a message about inequality. This theme coexists with the element of “more”, each character wants more for their lives, and nobody is ever satisfied.
American Paradise holds the key to understanding inequality; a lesson about wanting a real paradise.