Stephane Rideau, left, and Dimitri Durdaine in OUR PARADISE (Breaking Glass Pictures)

Stephane Rideau, left, and Dimitri Durdaine in OUR PARADISE (Breaking Glass Pictures)

Directed & Written by Gaël Morel
Produced by Paulo Branco
Released by Breaking Glass Pictures
French with English subtitles
France. 97 min. Not rated
With Stéphane Rideau, Dimitri Durdaine & Béatrice Dalle

Blond and doe-eyed, Angelo (Dimitri Durdaine) is a teen prostitute whom other prostitutes pay to see naked. But being a pretty sex worker can be dangerous as well as lucrative, and Our Paradise opens with Angelo beaten almost unconscious in a Paris cruising ground. He lets his rescuer, fellow hustler Vassili (Stéphanie Rideau), adopt him as a partner in prostitution, becoming his lover and something of a foster twink. It’s the first of many terrible decisions to come.

The two try to pick up tricks together as a couple, but none of their clients want to sleep with Vassili, who, with a beer belly, may be past his prime at 33 for this line of work. The clients prefer Angelo, a hot body with a blank face who doesn’t seem to mind anything that happens to him—even a memorably invasive prostate exam recorded on camera. So while the two have cartoonish fetish sex (ropes! gas masks! mice? mice!) with the horny older men of Paris, Vassili takes out his frustration by killing the johns when Angelo’s done—and sometimes before, which gets messy.

The film never presents a clean understanding of why Vassili can’t stop killing, and a viewer might become distracted having to work hard in figuring out why. What does he get out of his murders? Sometimes he also steals money, but Vassili is not a poor serial killer. Hurt vanity and a lack of respect from tricks are the only explanations the film seems to offer for his rage, and that’s hard to swallow as a motivation for murder.

At one point, Angelo takes a stand against his boyfriend’s bloodlust. He wants to know why the person he loves is suddenly killing a john, and his savior doesn’t have a good answer. But by the next scene, the witless Angelo is an eager participant, cuddling afterwards with Vassili. Their motivations and moral compass shift directions with each scene change. They fell in love the day after they met, and just as easily consider breaking up the next day. Then without prompting they get back together with redoubled affection.

Rideau and the film’s director, Gaël Morel, both starred in Wild Reeds, Andrê Téchiné’s now-classic of sexual awakening from 1994. Morel has since directed Rideau in Full Speed (1996) and Three Dancing Slaves (2004), and Rideau’s acting is fine here, but this is a character and a plot that never add up. Besides desperation, why are Vassili and Angelo in love? What does Vassili want out of all these murders? Why does he never appear to even consider cleaning his crime scenes? He’s a sloppy killer who leaves his victims naked with sex paraphernalia lying about. Why does the Paris police force seem unaware of the gay sex killing spree?

There is a tradition of gay crime movies, and many are good. But this is not textured enough to be a violent Greg Araki story of gay alienation, a John Waters crime comedy, or a Natural Born Killers romp through sex and megalomania. It’s not even Monster or The Talented Mr. Ripley. Those are movies that want to examine the pathologies of their killers, and in interesting ways. This is more like Eating Out or Burnt Money, softcores that are better at depicting sex than a story.