Film Title: Paradise: Love
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Margarethe Tiesel, Peter Kazungu, Inge Maux, Dunja Sowinetz
Running Time: 120 min
Even the most timid cineaste would admit that Ulrich Seidl – Austrian director of such unsettling pieces as Dog Days and Import/Export – is a master of creative cruelty.
So prevalent is the pessimism that it hardly seems worthwhile leaving the cinema when the credits roll. Why not just curl up in a ball and wait for merciful death?
The opening two-thirds of Paradise: Love – opening salvo in an ironically titled trilogy that will later deliver not-much Faith and only a little Hope – demonstrates why he is worth heeding.
This savagely satirical, mordantly funny story follows Teresa (the excellent Margarethe Tiesel), a middle-aged Austrian as she makes her way to Kenya to indulge her hitherto suppressed post-colonial prejudices (on what you or I might call a holiday). She and her friends sunbathe pinkly behind a rope that separates them from a gathering crowd of hawkers, hangers-on and unofficial tour guides.
Teresa falls in with a young man named Munga (Peter Kazungu) and starts what a fool (or somebody who’s never seen an Austrian film before) might mistake for a May-September romance. Inevitably, the Kenyan ends up asking for money and Teresa is forced to face up to her own self-deception.
Shot in flat shades by Wolfgang Thaler and Ed Lachman, the opening acts allow the two characters diverting, unsettling degrees of moral nuance. We sense that Teresa is half-aware of her own foolishness.
We are invited to believe that Munga might be semi-sincere in his expressions of affection. But Seidl doesn’t work that way. After a tense, crafty first hour, the film breaks down into the usual festival of cruelty and applied nihilism.
Just as you can count on Steven Spielberg to finish with an inspirational surge, you can be sure that Seidl will send us home with a grubby, exploitative sex scene.
The problem is not with the hopelessness of Seidl’s vision, it is with the predictability of the tonal arc. We may have travelled hopefully but we always suspected this is where we’d end up.