While Amazon Studios’ latest film centers around the art of ballet, “Birds of Paradise” is fundamentally about desires and ambitions that speak to the deepest parts of the human experience. Sarah Adina Smith, the director of the dance-driven psychological thriller, strove to create a narrative that transcended the sphere of ballet.
“It’s a movie where friendship and love and lust and obsession all get kind of tangled together,” said Smith in an interview with the Harvard Crimson. “It’s where ambition and libido collide.”
The film follows two rival ballerinas and best friends competing for the prize contract at the Opéra National de Paris. Kristine Froseth of “Looking for Alaska” costars as French ballerina Marine Elise Durand — the former star pupil who has returned to reclaim her spot after a tragic loss. Enter Kate Sanders, played by Diana Silvers (“Booksmart”), a spunky American ballet dancer with a fiery spirit for competition. The pair make a pact to both earn the contract, aiming to defy the rule that only one male and one female dancer may win the prize. However, the girls are ultimately forced against each other as their ambition threatens to shatter the friendship they have formed and the undercurrent of desire beneath.
When asked about the intent behind the movie’s themes, Smith said she explored several key questions: “‘Can you achieve greatness at the highest levels and still be good? What do you sacrifice along the way?’ What makes humanity interesting is that we’re always reaching for greatness and always reaching… for the beyond,” she said. “At the same time, how do you do that in service of perhaps some higher truth rather than just validation or your own ego?” In this time of great change, Smith explained, we have re-evaluate the values and beliefs we hold, a theme that she hopes is reflected in the movie.