PARADISE ROAD, a labor-of-love true-story of WW2 from writer-director Bruce Beresford in 1997, has a number of strong points and a few flaws, but the weak-sis dismissal from critics and sorry box-office performance are more reflective of historical ignorance on the part of lazy reviewers and the clue-absent public than they are of the hard work and heart put into the production. *
When the Japanese conquer SE Asia in 1942, the Fall of Singapore sees hundreds of English, Dutch and Australian women (and the odd Yank gal) put into internment camps for the duration of the war. In brutal conditions on the island of Sumatra, some of the imprisoned ladies—a mix of nurses, socialites, nuns, and soldiers wives—try to cope by creating a vocal orchestra. They use the disciplined singing as a way to fight back, keep their humanity and hope up against disease, mistreatment and despairing loneliness. Even some of their captors are impressed.
Beresford spent two years researching accounts, interviewing survivors, and using a good deal from Australian nurse/witness Betty Jeffrey’s 1954 book “White Coolies”. Filming was accomplished in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, with something approximating $12,000,000 going into recreating settings and events. The cinematography by Peter James is a strong assist. Beresford’s screenplay notably leaves out the more heinous atrocities, yet even the toned-down treatment generated predictable, idiotic, knee-jerk reviews from critics, notably in the States, where anything that might venture near the truth about wartime military Japanese brutality and racism was ironically tarred as itself being racist. Neat trick. There’s a gullible cretin born every minute. For God’s sake, read a little! You don’t have to sell your Subaru. **
Despite many effective scenes, the movie doesn’t register with the kind of impact the subject warrants, yet, along with its good-looking package, it benefits from the solid work of a fine cast, headed by Glenn Close. With her are Pauline Collins, Cate Blanchett (27, in her feature debut), Frances McDormand (she got a lot of grief for her German accent: she’s fine), Julianna Margulies, Wendy Hughes, Jennifer Ehle, and Johanna ter Steege.
Shrugs from critics and “what war?” from the masses helped ensure the film gross a meek $2,970,653 in Australia, but just $2,007,000 in the crucial U.S. market, where it languished at 173rd place among the crop for 1997. It deserved better.
Also in the cast: Clyde Kusatsu, Elizabeth Spriggs, Pamela Rabe, Stan Egi, David Chung, Sab Shimono, Pauline Chang. 122 minutes.
* Beresford: “Paradise Road was the most disastrous film I ever made….It was one of the worst reviewed films of my career…The American reviews and the Australian reviews were dreadful – a few good ones but mostly they were terrible. And the worst of all were the English reviews. They were just lethal….But I liked it. When it was finished, I thought this was actually pretty good. But I was quite taken aback by the reviews. They were the worst I have ever had.”