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Review: Low intentions undercut high art of 'Paradise: Faith'

In 'Paradise: Faith,' an examination of fanatical piety descends into a simple freak show, despite actors' committed efforts.

August 22, 2013|By Robert Abele
  • Maria Hofsttter in "Paradise: Faith."
Maria Hofsttter in "Paradise: Faith." (Handout )

The second film in Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise" trilogy, "Paradise: Faith," continues the director's fascination with pitifully deluded women undergoing humiliating blows to their dignity. After the deflating sex-tourism diorama that was "Paradise: Love," Seidl trains his unsparing, formalist eye on that protagonist's sister, Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter), a devout Catholic who regularly self-flagellates, talks to Jesus like a cowed lover and spends her vacation time bringing door-to-door conversion (by way of a toted-around Virgin Mary statue) to unsuspecting apartment dwellers.

Anna Maria's devotional routines are upended, however, with the sudden appearance of her long-absent husband, a paraplegic Egyptian Muslim (a haunted and commanding Nabil Saleh) with his own ideas of duty. Setting aside the schematic nature of this increasingly combative marital setup, Seidl's examination of fanatical piety — assembled in static compositions and unscripted dialogue — is little more than a simplistic freak show punctuated by images and situations meant to elicit sneering gapes.

Considering the admirable commitment Hofstätter brings to her role — physically rigorous, grimly mixing the shameful and shameless — she's mostly a wind-up toy serving Seidl's airless asceticism. With little room to feel for or even understand Anna Maria, "Paradise: Faith" rarely seems more than high art with low intentions.


"Paradise: Faith"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 53 minutes

Playing: Cinefamily, Los Angeles.


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