Paradise: Faith [Paradies: Glaube] Movie Review
The second in Austrian filmmaker Seidl's Paradise trilogy (after the blackly comical Love), this religion-themed drama also uses heavy doses of dark humour and irony to put its characters through the wringer. The film is deliberately provocative and unsettling, forcing us to think about the role of faith in our world view, regardless of what we believe.
The central character is the sister of Love's sex tourist. Anna (Hofstatter) is a devout Catholic who has turned her home into a church, with its spotless surfaces and a crucifix and holy water in every room. After a day at work, she prays to Jesus as if he's her boyfriend, adding self-flagellating whips and spiked belts to her worship as she agonises about the decline of Austrian society. On her days off, she visits strangers in their homes urging them to pray to Mary. Then her estranged husband Nabil (Saleh) returns home: a feisty paraplegic Muslim, he challenges everything she preaches. And when he gets tired of her dismissive hypocrisy, he declares war on her faith.
Watching Anna struggle with her rigid belief system is thoroughly harrowing to watch. And it's also cruelly hilarious, as her internal conflict seems so self-imposed. So when her house is invaded by Nabil, as well as a grouchy cat she's babysitting, everything starts to come unglued. She calls in her prayer warrior team and throws herself into increasingly dangerous places trying to save some troubled souls. Hofstatter plays Anna with a precision that extends from her too-tight hairdo to the way her knees weaken every time she catches a glimpse of her handsome saviour. And Saleh is just as complex as her fed-up husband who can't quite bring himself to match her cruelty.
As always, Seidl shoots the film beautifully, carefully staging each scene in a way that looks like a moving painting. Images and colours are balanced cleverly with religious icons, and there are constant surprises along the way that take us (and Anna) aback. There's also the fact that in today's global climate, this material is even more important: because this is an exploration of how blind adherence to a set of beliefs isn't actually religion at all.