VINE VOICEon August 8, 2014
Paradise (German: Paradies) is the collective name of three films directed by Ulrich Seidl: Paradise: Love (2012), Paradise: Faith (2012) and Paradise: Hope (2013). They focus on three women from one family; one of them travels to Kenya as a sex tourist, one has to spend time at a weight loss camp, and one tries to propagate Catholicism. Three women set out to fulfil their unfulfilled dreams and longings.Paradise is the promise of a state of permanent happiness.as well as a commonly abused concept in the tourism industry.These are 3 women from one family,two sisters and a daughter.The method is to shoot fiction films in a documentary setting,so that unexpected moments of reality can meld with the fiction.The film is shot in original locations.The cast consists of actors and non-actors,setting up a certain tension.All 3 films tell stories that are fictions but had,as a starting point, personal observations,experiences and encounters with others.They both draw on reality and reinvent it.Each film can work as a stand-alone piece or connect as part of a triptych.Seidl has revealed a preoccupation with sex and prostitution in his films and documentaries.These three women have low market value,so they look for love elsewhere.For him for whom corporality plays an important role,it’s in the unbeautified you find beauty.
Seidl’s aim is authenticity,yet you wonder how say he set up the 1st film,Paradise: Love,where sugar mamas,over 50s Austrian women,partaking of sex tourism, look for love and sex with the beach boys,who are all non-actors,give them ‘love’ in exchange for money,a form of global prostitution.There are scenes of embarrassment for the beach boys(as well as the excellent actor playing Teresa),where you thought the global sex trade operates in 3rd World countries for western tourists.For the beach boys,love is business,and they have wives and children to support.Similarly,Seidl takes the three theological virtues and transposes them into the modern world,shorn of all their metaphysical connotations,despite the middle film,Paradise:Faith depicting a Catholic fundamentalist,who does missionary work during her vacation,so that Austria may be brought back to the path of virtue.She targets immigrants.She’s seenstruggling to convert an alcoholic Russian prostitute.She carries a two foot high statue of the Virgin Mary from door to door.Her real struggle begins when her husband,an Egyptian Muslim,after years of absence,confined to a wheelchair, comes home.She only has love for Jesus,and prefers masturbation with a cross to sex with her husband.Such a battle between the estranged couple ensues over his rights as a married man and their differences of religious belief.This was my favourite of the 3 films due to the beautiful way each scene is shot,almost perfect,and the strength of subject matter,the acting.
Seidl does not write dialogue,although his films are based on scripts,but the settings,pre-production and what comes out during filming,leads to a certain measure of improvisation.Seidl seems to want to disturb or discomfort the viewer.He’s a provocateur, delving into Austria’s psyche,in a confrontative manner,crafting a state of the nation work of art.His camera’s gaze is unflinching, straddling fiction and non-fiction, in an age of globalisation,exploring the consumerist ethos where the West can buy anything.He wants viewers to identify with his hapless protagonists.Anna Maria’s self flagellation,though medieval,is believable.He asks a lot of the actors.Melanie (Lenz) ,the overweight adolescent,trying to lose weight at the boot camp in Paradise: Hope, develops a crush on the camp doctor,there’s no overt sexuality in their encounters.You feel he is sending up Austria’s past through the militaristic PT intructor’s.There is a lot of humour in all 3 films,even if its of a scabrous kind:” If you’re happy and you know it,clap your fat!”as the teenage dieters sing in a group in English.All 16 camp inmates perform under their real names.Lenz had experienced an actual Diatcamp prior to being cast.All 3 films take place over the same summer. The recurring motif in Love,where an emotionally bereft Teresa tries and fails to reach Melli on the phone,counterpointed by Melli’s own attempts to ring her mother for emotional reassurance.Her auntie at the start of the film(the one in Faith) is shown taking her to the camp.Not always easy to watch but rewarding,when you realize that Seidl is one of those pathfinder film makers, attempting to make such films.