Film Title: Paradise: Hope
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas
Running Time: 100 min
Those who battled through the first two parts of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy – one promising “Love”, the other “Faith” – will be relieved to hear that the secondary title of the last film is, for once, not meant entirely ironically.
The news that the most optimistic (and best) picture in the cycle concerns a teenage girl having an inappropriate relationship with a doctor in a ghastly fat camp is unlikely to sideswipe those Seidl veterans. You don’t poke your finger in Ulrich’s wound without expecting to encounter a few globules of puss.
Paradise: Hope follows Melli (Melanie Lenz) – daughter of the grim sex tourist from Paradise: Love – as she is sent to an austere facility in some bracing quarter of the Austrian interior. Seidl is not afraid to play with certain stereotypes concerning the militaristic tendencies of the Austro-Germanic peoples. The unfortunate teenagers are marched from gymnasium to dormitory by an automaton in a tracksuit who clearly relishes his pathetic empire of torment. They hang from horizontal bars like sides of meat. They belt out songs that cruelly acknowledge the largeness of their thighs and biceps.
Seidl is certainly guilty of generating some laughs at the girls’ expense (his habit of shooting from below to emphasise their bulk seems particularly cruel). But, for the most part, he’s on their side. The highly improvised late-night conversations address issues of teenage sexuality and body dysmorphia with great sensitivity. For all the nihilism of his earlier films, Seidl here seems more optimistic about the decency of young people than, say, the Harmony Korine of Springbreakers.
When the suave, self-regarding doctor (played by Joseph Lorenz as a kind of middle-European Bill Nighy) begins making improper moves towards Meli, the film lunges into darker territory. But, for once, Seidl doesn’t push the story towards the most sordid imaginable denouement. A kind of uneasy resolution is reached that, if presented in isolation, may have left us in a state of, well, hope.
Unfortunately, Paradise: Hope arrives as part of a trilogy that, in its opening salvos, suggests we just get sillier and more fanatical as we get older. Feeling better about yourself?