Taken together, Ulrich Seidl’s three Paradise films will be hard to beat this year for sheer arthouse scald. Seidl has a relentless vision but one worth reckoning with, especially now that he has turned world-class ambitious and crafted his epic: this trilogy of doomed emotional struggle.
The first film, Love, is about love’s absence, demonstrated by way of a radioactive portrait of modern European tourism. We first see the lead, Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), monitoring a class of developmentally disabled adults at a bumper car concession, an immediate clue as to how near-exploitative, or at least uncomfortably fascinated, Seidl can be with human “imperfection.” Teresa herself is an obese 50-year-old divorcee who vacations in a Kenyan beach resort where laconic Africans work in colonial uniforms, where white Europeans lie like rows of bleached seals on the sand, and where lonely middle-aged women come as sex tourists, paying local “beach boys” as sex toys and escorts. Focused more on love than just sex, Teresa endures a downward trajectory, boy to boy, watching her own innocence die as her hunger for companionship is exploited for cash.
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Seidl’s unblinking perspective can seem cruel—Tiesel and the rest of the film’s lunging Euro Moms have no secrets from us—but this is Seidl at his most powerful and humane, bringing us intimately close to characters movies otherwise exclude. There’s no mercy as Seidl observes Teresa alone on her balcony bursting out of her underwear, or wryly trying to muster an erection from a boy her friends bought her, but the attention and respect for her reality feels generous and loving, too.
May 24-30, 2013