Paradise: Love [Paradies: Liebe] Movie Review
The double-edged irony of the title is your first hint: this is a clever pitch-black satire that often feels like a cruel joke. It's the first in a trilogy by acclaimed Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl about the way we look for meaning in life (up next are Faith and Hope), and it's designed specifically to catch us off guard. The film also makes us squirm in our seats as it encourages us to laugh at all the wrong things while finding some haunting truths about human yearning.
It starts in Vienna, where 50-year-old Teresa (Tiesel) is struggling to cope with her lazy teen daughter Meli (Lenz). So she drops Meli off with her sister (Hofstatter) and takes a holiday at a Kenyan beach resort. Her intention is to escape from the pressures back home, but a fellow tourist (Maux) teaches her about the joys of local beach boys. With an image of true romance in her head, Teresa strikes up a friendship with the frisky young Gabriel (Mwarua). Their first sexual encounter doesn't go so well, but she's encouraged to try again with persistent nice-guy Munga (Kazungu). The question is whether real love is even possible with one of these young men. Or are they all just after her cash?
As with his previous dramas Dog Days and Import/Export, filmmaker Seidl uses carefully composed scenes that catch our eye with their striking imagery and unexpected honesty. The African coastline provides a gorgeous backdrop for characters who have such a strong visual contrast that we can't look away: chubby, pale middle-aged women and lean, muscled young black men. But it's not always apparent who's using whom here, and there are hints that both are looking for something elusive.
All of this is portrayed with a huge blast of politically incorrect humour. Since we see everything through Teresa's curious eyes, we can't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all, mainly because these women look utterly ridiculous. But as the film progresses we are able to identify with both her naivete and her growing assertiveness when things don't go the way she was hoping they'd go. As an exploration of the need for human connection, this film really gets under the skin. Even though most scenes hinge on deep embarrassment, there are moments of warmth and honesty that make it impossible to forget.