CAST

Glenn Close
Frances McDormand
Pauline Collins
Cate Blanchett
Jennifer Ehle
Julianna Margulies
Elizabeth Spriggs
Stan Egi
Clyde Kusatsu
DIRECTED BY

Bruce Beresford
PURCHASE

Movie
Soundtrack
Book
Poster
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"I just can't bring myself to hate people. The worse they behave, the sorrier I feel for them."
Time: 115 mins.
Rating: R
Official Web Site
Genre: Drama/WWII
If you think that PARADISE ROAD is just a chick flick or another WWII concentration camp story, you would be partly correct, but you would miss the chance to experience a film of great emotion and incredible courage. Though the grander scenario is a common one these days, the way these women survived is one that will touch your heart. How they lived through their 3 year incarceration is beyond my comprehension. This is more than just a story, it was someone's life. The film begins in 1942 when the Japanese attack Singapore forcing all the Europeans and Australians to send their women back home. They don't get very far. Their ship is bombed on the way to Australia, forcing the women and children to jump into the sea and swim for shore. They thought their troubles were over once they reached Sumatra. They couldn't have been more wrong. Those that survived the attack are captured by the Japanese and herded into a concentration camp, where dissent is not treated lightly. The prisoners are forced to do hard labor in 100 degree heat, eat spoiled food, and care for their sick without medicine. Though life is no picnic, they are not in any immediate danger of physical harm from their captors. Their detainment is viewed by their captors as a simple part of war.

At first, they believe it will be only months before they are rescued. News from the front is scarce and they are only told what their guards want them to hear, which is anti-European propaganda. When Christmas comes and goes, they must face the reality that they are trapped until the war is over. To help pass the time, music lovers Adrienne Pargiter (Close) and Margaret Drummond (Collins) decide to start a vocal orchestra. It won't be easy. The prisoners are forbidden to meet in large groups or to write anything down. Plus they have to convince the others that it would be worthwhile, not an simple task. Eventually, they get enough women to participate, teaching all of them their parts whenever they get an uninterrupted moment to practice. Finally, on their 2nd anniversary in the camp, they put on a concert for all the prisoners. It's the first time the entire orchestra has been assembled in the same place, making it a powerful experience for all when they hear the extraordinary music coming from their lips. Even the guards, who are supposed to stop them, are enchanted by their performance. It is the first moment of peace and beauty these woman have enjoyed in a long time.

It doesn't last. The younger and prettier women are herded up and taken to the home of the local higher ups and given the choice to become a kept woman with all the amenities – good food, clean sheets, hot water – or return to the camp. It's an offer a few of them are unable to refuse. Once returned, tragedy and death begin to take hold of the women. Adrienne is placed in solitary confinement and almost put to death when she strikes and humiliates a guard who was planning on raping her; Susan (Blanchett), a young Australian nurse, is tortured and almost killed after refusing to repeat a derogatory remark she made while bowing to the Japanese flag; and Rosemary (Ehle) suffers a broken heart and slips into the arms of death after she is momentarily reunited with her husband only to realize days later that she will never see him alive again.

The situation gets even worse when they are moved to a camp even more remote in the interior of Sumatra. The train ride and deteriorated conditions prove too much for a large number of the woman. However, even though Captain Tanaka (Egi) has broken their hearts and bodies, he cannot destroy their spirit. When Margaret finally succumbs to death, the rest of the prisoners, voices silenced by exhaustion and starvation, pick up rocks and clap their hands, creating music to celebrate the passing of their dear friend. The songs are what keep them sane and give them strength in the midst of unending hardship. They are the only comfort they have in this wretched place.

PARADISE ROAD is a powerful piece of filmmaking you won't soon forget. The entire cast gives beautiful, heartbreaking performances. These women were merely ordinary, every day people struggling to survive a horrifying situation. The cast made them more than just faceless prisoners, but unique and fallible human beings. What's even more amazing is that these women were able to create such wonderful music, which even under the best of conditions is not an easy thing to do. The scene of their first performance is stunning in its complexity and beauty. This sequence is the turning point of the film. They realize if they can create something as wonderful as this, they can do anything - even survive. You may not want to watch another film about the horrors and triumphs of WWII, but this is a film you definitely shouldn't miss.