There’s something about Austrian directors and their fetishistic delight in dissecting human nature – to tear open layers of our civilised behaviour and scoop out the primeval muck. I’m clearly referring to Ulrich Seidl and his more celebrated compatriot Michael Haneke here. Both are renowned for their uncompromising observations, but unlike Haneke who uses nuanced language, Seidl can be quite in-your-face, unflinchingly gazing at his characters’ (and our) every discomfort, twitch, and grimace. “Paradies: Liebe” [Eng. Title: Paradise: Love] is the first in Ulrich Seidl’s ambitious trilogy focusing on the concept of paradise; the others being Paradise: Faith (out this Christmas), and Paradise: Hope (2013).
Teresa, a single Austrian mother approaching fifty, arrives in Kenya on vacation. We are soon privy to the fact that one of the main attractions there for overweight middle-aged ladies like Teresa are the young native men loitering near the resort, at first trying to sell them needless trinkets, but something altogether more tempting should the tourists wish, all for a price that isn’t as straightforward as back home. Egged-on by her Austrian friends, Teresa embarks on her own quest for ‘paradise’, which for her is ‘unconditional love’ – something that she couldn’t find in her own country. But while we may be forgiven for thinking that she’s exploiting the natives, the men who court her have different ideas – and there will be a symbiosis of sorts in their mutual exploitation.
Provocative as ever, Seidl challenges his viewers with various motifs that not only confound stereotypes, but also explores the dynamics of trade-offs in our quest for happiness. The idea that people who don’t conform to archetypal standards of beauty are still sexual beings and will go to great lengths to find fulfilment is illustrated frankly, albeit with a thick air of poignancy. He forces the viewer to accept their imperfections in the same way the protagonist has, and tellingly, starts the film with a long scene where Teresa is enthusiastically supervising a group of adults with downs syndrome at a play area in Vienna. Teresa on more than once occasion admits as such that she is way past her prime, but that doesn’t stop her from seeking whatever is missing in her life.
Technically, the film is as accomplished as his previous films like Hundstage and Import/Export. The cinematography is distinctly shot in the style of a documentary – chronicling events rather than intruding. The film also features prolonged scenes of explicit nudity, both male and female, and they’re not of the titillating kind – more of the embarrassingly frank. Margarete Tiesel gives it her all with total conviction playing the lead character of Teresa. Most of the scenes in the film were shot without a script, and hence the dialogues are candid, helped by the fact that Ms. Tiesel’s male co-stars are locals who’re non-actors. This is another gem of a film from Ulrich Seidl, and I can’t wait to see the remaining part of his trilogy. Highly Recommended Viewing..!
The Nudity: Margarete Tiesel, Inge Maux, Peter Kazungu, and others
As noted above, the film features several frank and explicit scenes of nudity and sex from both female and male actors, even more so the latter.