Paradise: Love

Paradise: Love


Reviewed by: Michael Pattison

Of the many colour-saturated images in Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), the one that lingers longest might be that in which its protagonist Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) first visits the beach at the edge of the Kenyan holiday resort where she is vacationing. In an extreme variant of a common truth, she and a pal (Inge Maux) arrive on the plush white sand to take up positions on sun loungers; at their feet is a cordon that stretches along the entire waterfront, on the other side of which stand multiple local men with goods to sell (necklaces, bracelets, more necklaces). With a staged stillness, they wait tirelessly for one of the women to step over the cordon for a dip in the sea, at which point they can compete to harrass her into a purchase.

Such is paradise. In the first of Austrian maestro Ulrich Seidl’s theme-led trilogy, which premiered at Cannes last year and which was followed by entries on Faith (which premiered at Venice) and on Hope (which premiered at Berlin this year), a far-off Kenyan summer is the setting and love is the utopia both promised and denied within it.

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First the promise. On the bus ride from the airport to her resort, Teresa and fellow holidaymakers listen to a local guide assuring them that the only two phrases they ever need to know and say while in Kenya are “jambo” (hello) and “hakuna matata” (no problem). Repeated frequently hereafter, both phrases are designed to give an impression of an impossibly easygoing nation of people, but gradually become loaded with quite different meanings: “jambo” is quickly followed by unwanted sales pitches, while “hakuna matata” is said by locals wanting to becalm Teresa’s irritation at being so consistently hassled by them whenever she ventures beyond the confines of her hotel. Still, amidst such bother, opportunity knocks: Teresa is wooed by those young men who dare to introduce themselves without any follow-up baggage. Such men are different (though as she says early on, “they all look the same”); perhaps romance is possible after all.

And then the denial. The economic imperatives upon which the tourist industry is based creates unequal relations of power: landing on foreign shores with money to burn, Teresa and her fellow European hopefuls (who bond based on their shared continental roots) are both exploiters and exploited. In signature compositions, Seidl frames the locals head-on with Teresa facing them, her back to us; and it very much is an “us” – and a “them”. In an escalation of the trans-European sex-slave trade at the centre of Seidl’s own Import/Export (2007), here the male natives live in such economically primitive conditions that their go-to commodity is their own body, sold to middle-aged European mothers in search of a second spring.

Denied emotional and physical gratification back home, Teresa and co. could be older versions of the quartet of females in Seidl’s Models (1999), discarded by an image- and age-obsessed society. As the film progresses, Seidl allows scenes to play out longer than expected, as they enter that uncomfortable territory (for protagonists, audiences and censor boards alike) of total unpredictability. The result is exponentially enervating: beginning as an observational comedy, the cyclical repetitions of Teresa’s vain search for love accumulate into a sobering indictment of the tourist industry and the neo-colonial implications that run beneath it.

Reviewed on: 03 May 2013
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A cautionary tale about European female sex tourists on the beaches of Kenya.
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Director: Ulrich Seidl

Writer: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz

Starring: Margarete Tiesel, Peter Kazungu, Inge Maux

Year: 2012

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Austria

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