"This is a new Miami!" a partygoer tells Ivan (Adrian Mas), a Cuban balsero who recently arrived in the city. "You can do whatever you want!'' Those are words Ivan takes to heart - to literal, horrific extremes.
The third and bleakest installment in writer-director Leon Ichaso's unofficial trilogy of films (El Super, Bitter Sugar) about the Cuban exile experience in the United States, Paraiso (Paradise) sends Fidel Castro's "New Man'' on a quest for the American dream, with disastrous results.
Born and raised under the revolution, Ivan arrives in Miami by raft, penniless but eager, and moves in with his father, radio talk-show host Remigio (Miguel Gutierrez), whom he had previously never met. Father and son begin an awkward relationship, gradually getting to know each other as Ivan begins his assimilation into a capitalist society.
But old habits die hard, and a chance encounter on the street with an old acquaintance (Ariel Texido) from Cuba ("You're the same hustler you always were!") sends Ivan into a downward spiral of deceit, manipulation and, eventually, murder. The more Ivan tastes of his new life, the hungrier he becomes for more - by whatever means necessary.
Shot entirely in Miami for $30,000 with a local cast and crew, Paraiso belies its tiny budget with a splashy look and vivid, dynamic compositions that capture the city's feel and depict the everyday lives of Miami's Cuban-American community with an insider's savvy. Previously shown at the Miami Film Festival earlier this year, this new director's cut of the movie is tighter and more polished, with a noticeably quicker pace that adds to the story's growing aura of tension and dread.
The movie also presents an unusual perspective on the latter wave of Cuban exiles, using the damaged psyche and corrupt morality of Ivan, who never fails to take advantage of any kindness that comes his way, as a scathing critique of Castro's Cuba. Ivan may be a psychopathic Mr. Ripley, and his actions may be monstrous, but Paraiso reserves its truest wrath and condemnation for the mad scientist who spawned him.
Paraiso will be shown at the Miami Beach Cinematheque at 8 p.m. Oct. 23 and 7 and 9:15 p.m. Oct. 24-25. Writer-director Leon Ichaso will introduce each screening and participate in a post-film Q&A. For more information, visit www.mbcinema.com