A scene from "Paradise: Love." (Handout )
For those who find the films of Michael Haneke too warm and accessible, there is always fellow Austrian Ulrich Seidl, who mixes up actors and real people in structured situations with improvised dialogue to disconcerting ends. "Paradise: Love," the first film of his recent triptych, is getting a week-long run (with "Paradise: Faith" and "Paradise: Hope" in one-off shows for now).
"Love" opens with a scene of developmentally disabled adults on an amusement park bumper-car ride for no apparent reason other than the provocateur's shock of the imagery. Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), who works with those adults, soon sets off for a sex tourism holiday in Kenya, leaving behind a sister and daughter who are the focus of the other two films.
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The film is, perhaps, intended as a deadpan burlesque of race and class and beauty ideals — Seidl has great fun endlessly shooting Teresa's awkward rolling waddle walk — but it plays more as a boorish, overextended punch line. Teresa, unlike the other women picking up local men, seems to want an emotional connection for her money. When it all builds to an extended sequence in which four middle-aged European women spend a hotel room birthday party trying to get a naked Kenyan man erect, Seidl's lack of any real purpose is what is really stripped bare.
Seidl would likely maintain that it is up to the viewer to decide where on the scale of comic or pathetic this all lands. The film's schematic construction bludgeons the characters into existing only as inhuman puppets for his amusement, so the whole affair curdles into a feeling of unearned, defensive superiority.
"Paradise: Love." No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours. At the Cinefamily.
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