At last year’s Cannes film festival the poet/model/actor/filmmaker Greta Bellamacina revealed she’d been turned away from the festival site by staff because she had her three-month son with her in a buggy – the irony being that her film (she directs, co-writes and stars) is the story of a young single mother struggling to be taken seriously as a poet. Hurt by Paradise turns out to be a drifty, pretentious, London-set drama, though pretty enough, with the smudged eyeliner glamour of an edgy fashion shoot.
Bellamacina’s film is self-consciously highbrow: that much is clear in the opening scene in which Celeste (Bellamacina) gets the brush off from a cartoonishly cynical literary agent who tells her that the reading public is only interested in dead poets: “Look at Sylvia Plath!” He suggests turning her poems about her absent dad into a novel. Celeste leaves in disgust, and heads back to her Fitzrovia flat, where she is raising her toddler alone, perpetually broke. Her quirky neighbour, out of work actor Stella (co-writer Sadie Brown), babysits while Celeste writes, and the pair’s odd-couple domestic bliss gives the film its most likable scenes; they have something of the gawky charm of Greta Gerwig’s Frances Ha.
But as a female writer with a small child, Celeste fails some basic plausibility tests. For a start, she seems to have all the solitude she needs, with endless time to stare meaningfully out of the window. The film’s grasp of being skint has a strong whiff of privilege, too. Celeste’s sole income source appears to be winning a few quid in poetry competitions (which somehow pays the rent and keeps her in gorgeous vintage-look dresses – though she is frequently seen rummaging in her purse for money to buy nappies or pay the babysitter). And Bellamacina’s decision to use Celeste’s poetry as a voiceover adds to the plausibility deficit: “Do you think you should try and live your life so you have an exciting obituary,” she muses high-mindedly on the tube. For me, the 83-minute running time seemed to drag out into a lifetime.
In cinemas from 18 September