Film Review: Paradise Drifters (NZIFF)

Paradise Drifters is a study of the physical and psychological impacts of homelessness on youth. Written and directed by Mees Peijnenburg, this Dutch film follows three such young adults as they cross paths.

Directed by: Mees Peijnenburg
With: Tamar van Waning, Jonas Smulders, Bilal Wahib, Joren Seldeslachts, Camilla Siegertsz, Steef Cuijpers, Micha Hulshof

How important is it to have family and loved ones that care, that don’t betray your trust and steal the only belongings you have to your name? It might be the only thing you have if you’re living on the street.

Meeting sends them on a journey to Spain via France on a desperate quest to improve their circumstances. Chloe (Tamar van Waning) cuts the wall with a craft knife in her mother’s home on her way out, leaving a message for the man of the house, after her mother tries to beat her on the street. Lorenzo (Jonas Smulders) wants to reunite with his incarcerated brother who he clearly idolises. Yousef (Bilal Wahib), possibly a refugee, he is released from a youth care facility onto the street while longing to go home. Wherever that may be.

Thanks to Chloe’s doggedness, the trio end up in a vehicle together headed for Barcelona, all having the collective motivation to find a better life. Chloe is pregnant and seeks a solution in which she can capitalise on the situation, Lorenzo is on a drug run to earn cash for himself and his bro, and Yousef has nowhere else to go.

There is minimal dialogue between the characters making the relationships within the group appear distant and somewhat sterile, although this improves towards the end. Yet this is more than countered by the ability for the characters emotions to be amplified. The protagonists all wear stoic faces, but the fear and desperation shows clearly in their eyes. Chloe is the life force of the film throughout, her remarkable character exudes strength, empathy, disillusionment and humour in equal measure.

Shot with a slightly grainy texture, the cinematography is stunning. Making beauty out of images of derelict living quarters and the paraphernalia of rough sleepers in Marseille in a way that isn’t glamorising. The film has a bass heavy electronic soundtrack, Death Shark by Lakutis and You Are The Coffin by Flatsound are excellent choices to couple with the complexity of being on the street in potential danger in an unfamiliar place.

Although it holds many sad moments, I didn’t find the film to be too depressing. Given approximately 50% of all homeless in Auckland is now youth, the film is a timely insight into their vulnerability and the difficulties they face. The film hammers home that the poor choices our young people on the street are often forced to make comes down to not being able to find or see any other options through lack of support. I highly recommend.

Paradise Drifter is part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, showing in theatres and online. For tickets/online access, please go HERE:

Andy Baker