After Love and Faith, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl takes a gentler approach to explore hope, although the film is equally unsettling. This is an inventive look at the conflicting desires and aspirations of teens and adults, and as it dips into areas that are deeply inappropriate, it turns memorably provocative.
While her mother is in Kenya on holiday (see Love), Melli (Lenz) is staying with her religious aunt (see Faith), who sends her to a summer diet camp for overweight teens. The fitness programme is run by a disciplinarian coach (Thomas) and strict nutritionist (Bartsch) who put the kids through their paces. But it's the camp's middle-aged doctor (Lorenz) who catches Melli's attention. As he monitors her health, she starts to flirt with him. And he flirts back. She's encouraged to keep going by her new friend Verena (Lehbauer), who's much more experienced with men and helps Melli sneak out for a trip to a local bar to meet a few more.
Seidl's filmmaking approach is observational rather than plot-driven. And watching this awkward interaction is often very funny, although we feel a bit guilty about laughing at it. Especially as the film quietly and astutely explores the characters' deep yearning for connection with other people, including of course the potent curiosity every adolescent feels about sex. It's hardly surprising that these kids have secret drunken parties, play spin the bottle and raid the kitchen for midnight snacks.
Continue reading: Paradise: Hope [Paradies: Hoffnung] 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.
Continue reading: Paradise: Faith [Paradies: Glaube] 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.
Continue reading: Paradise: Love [Paradies: Liebe] Review