Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paradise Trilogy

The YBCA screened Ulrich Seidl's Paradise Trilogy in June.

Paradise: Love starring Margarete Teisel; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2012)
Paradise: Faith starring Maria Hofstatter; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2012)
Paradise: Hope starring Melanie Lenz; directed by Ulrich Seidel; German with subtitles; (2013)

The Paradise trilogy is a loosely connected set of stories.  It involves two generations of women - two sisters and one of their daughters.  Each installment works as a stand-alone film but seen as a series, some interesting parallels in the women's lives show up.

I saw the film on three consecutive Thursdays.

Paradise: Love focuses on Teresa (Margarete Teisel) an overweight, middle aged, Austrian woman who goes to Kenya for vacation.  Kenya may seem like an odd place for a mature woman to go alone for vacation but apparently, there is flourishing sex trade in Kenya.  European women go to Kenya to have sex with younger Kenyan men.  Teresa has a teenage daughter (the focus of Paradise: Hope) who is surly.  She leaves her daughter with her sister (Paradise: Faith) and heads off for Kenyan with no explanation why this woman would travel 3,500 miles for sex.

Teresa seems to have convinced herself that she will have a traditional vacation but her friend is already there and enthusiastically participates in the sexual market for Kenyan men.  After some hesitancy, Teresa takes the plunge and gets in over head.  At first shy and reserved, Teresa convinces herself she has found true love until the man's wife shows up at his door.  From there Teresa looses most of her inhibition.  She readily accepts the offers from a couple pros but in the denouement, Teresa sets her sights on a bartender at the resort she is staying at.  He returns to her room with the intention of servicing her but he draws the line a cunnilingus which Teresa demands.  She angrily kicks the man out of her room (without paying) and is left sobbing as the film closes.

The most impressive aspect of Paradise: Love is Margarete Teisel courageous performance.  Frequently nude for her sex scenes, she captures Teresa's descent into self-loathing.  A painfully lonely woman, Teresa came to Kenyan looking for love (or at least a human connection) instead of sex.  By the end of the film, she has de-personalized the act to a monetary transaction with interchangeable young men.  I would expect this kind of story with a male protagonist but it seems more effective with a female lead character.  Paradise: Love was my favorite of the trilogy and one of the better films I've seen in 2013.

Paradise: Faith was my least favorite entry in the trilogy.  Teresa's sister Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter) is a X-ray technician who spends her vacation time going door-to-door with a statue of the Virgin Mary and urging poor immigrants to pray.  She also practices self-flagellation which is a Catholic form of penance.  I went to school in New Mexico and there is a lay brotherhood order knows as the Penitente Brotherhood who practices self-flagellation.

Into Anna Maria's pious life comes her estranged, wheelchair bound, Muslim husband.  How did a devout Catholic and Muslim ever get married?  The film doesn't explain.  Whereas Teresa is desperate for love, her sister is determined that she and her husband will have no carnal knowledge.  There is room for only one man in Anna Marie's bed and that man is Jesus.

As Anna Maria goes about her Christian duty to care for her husband, his frustration at not sharing their conjugal grows.  A sort of holy war ensues as each attacks the other emotionally, spiritually and physically.  By the end of the film, Anna Maria seems to renounce her faith.

A somewhat surreal film which is played straight by Hofstatter, Paradise: Faith seemed out of step to me.  I wasn't quite sure if what I was seeing was drama or comedy.  However, the order in which I saw the films may have played a role.  I saw Paradise: Love first, Paradise: Faith a week later and Paradise: Hope on the third week.  Paradise: Hope had some dark humor which I was better able to appreciate.  Perhaps if I had seen Faith last, I would have been better conditioned to appreciate the surrealism in the film.

Teresa's daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is the dysfunctional one in Paradise: Hope.  Overweight like her mother, Melanie goes a fat camp for children.  There is a stern exercise trainer who takes a sadistic pleasure in tormenting the children.  There is also a silent, blonde female trainer whose presence must make the children (especially the girls) feel self-conscience.  However, the key staff member in Hope is the doctor (Joseph Lorenz) who is part predator, part prey.

Becoming aware of her sexuality through contact with an older, more sexually experienced roommate at the camp, Melanie awkwardly attracts the attention of the doctor who reciprocate at times.  Unable to fully understand or act on her sexual impulses, Melanie is stuck in a sexual limbo.  She and her roommate sneak into town and get drunk.  It appears that Melanie will be the victim of a date rape except the owner of the bar intervenes.  He doesn't mind underage girls in his bar but he draws the line a rape.  Assuming Melanie is part of the fat camp, the bar owner contacts the doctor who puts the unconscious Melanie in her car, drives out to the woods, lays her on the ground and lays next to her.  I think he sniffed her too.  The doctor was kind of creepy.  Coming to his senses, the film ends with him telling Melanie that she can longer contact him.

The film ends with hope that Melanie can have a more healthy attitude towards sex than her mother and aunt.

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