Paradise: Love (2013)
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Critic Reviews for Paradise: Love
The striking compositions mingle childlike curiosity with adult decadence -- and natural beauty with garish consumer culture -- to provocative, even profound effect.
That churning in your stomach may be unpleasant, but it's necessary for the film to deliver its knockout punch.
The whole affair curdles into a feeling of unearned, defensive superiority.
Ulrich Seidl: sadomasochistic provocateur or compassionate observer of the human condition?
Audience Reviews for Paradise: Love
A quiet film, as visually beautiful as it is narratively sparse. A lonely middle-aged Austrian woman travels to Kenya in search of good times, mostly in the form of carnal relations with the indigenous hustlers. Try as she might, the woman can't forge a meaningful relationship with any of the young men she meets. It's very minimalistic and not very cheerful, but there are some interesting human insights to be found here. The depiction of sex is pretty graphic, and the middle-aged European women who basically prey on the local men come off less as crass exploiters of ignorant natives and more like lonely, pathetic spinsters. The squalid apartments inhabited by the locals are contrasted with the luxurious surroundings of the hotel our spiritually destitute heroine inhabits for most of her vacation. She's not especially sympathetic, but we do identify with her. It could stand to be about 20 minutes shorter, and there are numerous instances when the film's improvised dialogue scenes become tedious, but the incredibly lifelike performances, coupled with gorgeous location cinematography (balancing squalor and luxury in often startling ways), make it a pleasure to look at. The first of a trilogy of films from director Ulrich Seidl.
A short form synopsis of Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Love might have you thinking this was another glorious examination of middle-aged "cougar" mentality, where Mrs. Robinson seduces her way into the hearts and pants of eager young studs. Much like 2006's Heading South with Charlotte Rampling and Cara Seymour, Seidl's film takes an ugly, unflinching look at the culture of well-off Caucasian women who journey to third-world countries to have sex with virile black men.
Seidl, who began his career in the world of documentary, keeps us at a distance in chronicling the casual racism and mutual abuse inherent in the arrangement. But unlike Heading South, in which the women were fully aware of their actions and reveled in it, it's hard to tell whether we should sympathize, despise, or pity the lead character in Paradise: Love. Margarethe Tiesel plays Teresa, an overweight, frumpy Austrian divorcee who drops her daughter off at a weight loss camp, then hops a plane to a Kenyan resort. Here the men literally stand around on the beach shores waiting for the attention, and they usually get it. A friend of Teresa's, who openly refers to herself as ugly and desperate, talks of how sex is everywhere for the taking. She introduces Teresa to a pack of aggressive, pushy young men, introducing one as her "boyfriend" and casually revealing that she had just bought him a new motorcycle. The boys don't really seem to care, barely saying anything other than "yes" and "I love you".
Somehow Teresa manages to miss how the arrangement works, either out of extreme loneliness or ignorance. As she wades through the non-stop harassment of the natives seeking her attention, a simple kindness by one man leads to an awkward attempt at sex in a dirty hotel room. When that ends in disaster, she meets an equally charming young man named Mungu, and it goes much better. The facade that all parties seem to agree on is that this is a real, loving relationship. That's part of the fun. It's like baseball fantasy camp for the sex-starved, and all of these trysts end the same way with the guy begging for money. Not for himself, of course, because that would be too obvious. But Teresa wants to believe it is real, even though all clues point to the contrary. The cycle of humiliation continues on until it's too obvious to ignore, but by then we've lost any sympathy for her plight.
Those who have seen Seidl previous work, in particular the brutal Import/Export, won't be surprised that there are more than a few protracted scenes so uncomfortable they're likely to send some scurrying for the exits. Here the most disturbing involves a skinny, potentially stoned young black man dancing around a hotel room while Teresa and her drunken friends degrade him in various, unspeakable ways. Teresa eagerly engages in the disgusting display, while at the same time expressing disappointment that she couldn't get him erect. Moments like that add a touch of poignancy to the character, but those soft moments are blunted by her glaring stupidity and, as we see in the final act, fit of righteous indignation.
Seidl makes sure to highlight every grotesque detail, putting the ugliness right in our faces so it's inescapable. But he also catches scenes of exquisite beauty and shocking surrealism. Tiesel deserves credit for her willingness to bear all; scars, wrinkles, and everything in the sagging package. But more than just the physical courage she shows, it's her decision to not use that to play on our sympathies that truly wins us over.
The first part of a planned trilogy, with one of the other installments following Teresa's daughter at fat camp, Seidl has given us a dirty and honest look at the life of a sad woman obsessively fulfilling her need for emotional intimacy.
After a while the initial rewards of the movie are overwhelmed by the tedious failure of the story to advance. That lack of growth in the characters is, no doubt, intentional and makes for a portrait of desultory despair putting on the appearance of carefree indulgence.
The movie pushes increasing discomfort upon the audience and prolongs it until discomfort gives way to tedium which gives way to pity tinged with loathing.
An effective movie which accomplishes a sense of disgust at the modern remnants of colonialism.
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