The trailer for “Paradise: Love” gives the impression that this film is a comedy. Yes, there is humor, something played up in the movie’s trailer. Director Ulrich Seidl, who co-wrote the screenplay with Veronika Franz, favors deadpan humor using long takes, a technique that I enjoy.
The ancient Greeks gave us a short menu when it came to drama: comedy or tragedy. The strict definition of a comedy is that the main character has failure, then success and learns something along the way. In a tragedy the main character has success, then failure and learns nothing.
How then to categorize this tale of Teresa (Margarete Tiesel) a middle aged, over weight Austrian woman who leads a less than exciting life running a bumper car concession and dealing with an unresponsive teenaged daughter? Teresa takes a vacation at a resort in Kenya where other women of her ilk curry sexual favors from fit Kenyan males who work at or near the resort.
Once free of the norms of her culture and society, Teresa feels free to carry on as she wants. Clearly she, and the women she knows at the resort, have an ethnocentric and admittedly racist point of view. They view themselves as superior Europeans, in Kenya to have fun with the lower class natives. An alternate title for the movie might have been “What happens in Kenya, stays in Kenya.” After a while though, I had to wonder who was taking advantage of who.
I give the film credit for the frankness of its sexuality. There are no bodies wrapped in protective blankets and towels, a device frequently used in American films that claim to be about sexuality but show limited, or no, nudity. While the nudity in “Paradise: Love” is plentiful, it is not sensationalized or titillating. It actually attains a certain level of grotesqueness as Teresa’s encounters become more and more cringe inducing.
While I was intrigued by the story, ultimately I wound up not liking Teresa and her friends, which is not meant as negative criticism. A scene towards the film’s end shows them warts and all: gross, pathetic and indecent. I had the impression that the filmmakers did not like these characters either and I applaud them for not sugar coating their views.
Certainly I cannot see myself recommending “Paradise: Love” for a general audience. However, those who consider themselves adventurous moviegoers may want to give it a try.
“Paradise: Love” is playing at City Cinemas Village East at 181 Second Avenue.
Paradise: Love, Director Ulrich Seidl, 2013, Strand Releasing, 120 minutes