Movie Review - Paradise Road
Music winds through 'Paradise Road'
Tragedy's impact lies in captivating moments

Paradise Road BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The history that inspired Paradise Road is beyond drama.

Civilian women -- British, Australian, Dutch and others -- interred by the Japanese in Sumatra during World War II -- faced starvation, torture and murder. As a survival strategy, they formed themselves into a ''vocal orchestra,'' using handwritten scores re-created from memory, to sing classical symphonies.

More than half the singers died before the war ended. Survivors miraculously held onto the scores, which eventually inspired the film from Australian co-writer-director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy).

Paradise Road
***

(R, profanity, violence, nudity)
Glenn Close, Pauline Collins, Frances McDormand.
Directed by Bruce Beresford.
114 minutes.
National Amusements.
The strength of the movie lies in fine performances and Mr. Beresford's fine eye for detail. He has a dead-on ability to put the audience in the moment, as for example, when he sends hundreds of women and children off the deck of a sinking ship into the Pacific Ocean after a harrowing attack on the vessel that was taking them to safety.

The movie is engrossing, although not completely satisfying, after the women are imprisoned. They suffer horrendous hardships, including watching a fellow inmate burned alive. Ethnic conflicts and class prejudice are issues the film raises but never explores with any complexity.

The lack of depth is most evident when some prisoners volunteer to work as prostitutes for Japanese officers; the movie bypasses this intense moral crisis with minimal insight.

The musical interludes, however, are captivating, weaving a spell over prison guards and prisoners alike. The concerts lead to fascinating scenes involving a hard-nosed Japanese guard (Clyde Kusatsu) and the camp commander (Sab Shimono) -- whose relationship with the prisoners is among the most intriguing elements in the story.

Standouts among the ensemble cast include Pauline Collins as a saintly missionary, Glenn Close as a patrician Englishwoman, Stan Egi as a cruel Japanese intelligence officer, and Cate Blanchett as an brave young nurse.

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