Inside a youth correctional facility in Belgium, pensive teenager Joe is both excited about his upcoming release back into the world, and apprehensive about what awaits him. But his thoughts of freedom are soon derailed by the new boy in the next cell: a live-wire tattoo artist named William. Their spark is instantaneous, and the young men soon find their passion unleashed. As Joe’s release date approaches, he begins to wonder whether liberty will come at too high a cost.
First-time feature director Zeno Graton refreshingly bypasses the obvious “forbidden love in a forbidden place” trope in favor of showing bold, passionate romantic love in the unlikely setting of a prison (the film’s French title, Le paradis, nails the irony). The two leads — Khalil Gharbia and Julien de Saint Jean (who also smolders in this year’s LIE WITH ME) — are terrific. Set to a plaintive North African-inflected score, this sensuous and sensitive drama asks, what are you willing to give up to be free?
— Peter L. Stein