Paradise: Love (2012)

Director:  Ulrich Seidl
Cast:  Margarete TieselPeter KazunguInge Maux
Plot:  Teresa, a 50-year-old Austrian and mother of a daughter entering puberty, travels to Kenya for a vacation. She goes from one beach boy to the next, from one disappointment to the next, and finally she must recognize:  On the beaches of Kenya love is a business.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes)
Runtime:  120min
Rating:  R21 for graphic sexuality and nudity.

I have not seen a more sexually explicit film this year – male genitals are paraded in their full glory, women's breasts are groped, yet these scenes aren't meant to be titillating.  They feel empty, devoid of sexuality in the erotic sense.  Perhaps they do mean something, but of which I'm unable to grasp. 

Ulrich Seidl's first film in his thematic 'Paradise' trilogy, Paradise: Love, is a provocative work about sex tourism in Kenya.  The locals attempt to seduce rich, White women into sleeping with them so as to establish an emotional bond, only to ask them for money, and then, more money. 

It is a far more complex phenomena  than what it seems, somewhat borne out of a country riddled with poverty, yet manifesting itself as part of a 'cultural package'.  The theme of Seidl's film is love, or the lack thereof.  His film explores what it is like to feel blissful again in a world of material unhappiness. 

The lead role Teresa, played by Margarethe Tiesel who gives a standout performance, centers on an overweight middle-aged Austrian woman who leaves her daughter behind to take a short vacation in Kenya. 

Embraced by a vibrant and warm culture that is characterized by a free-spirited sense of hospitality, Teresa slowly feels herself drawn to the exotic setting.  Tiesel's performance is brave and daring as she not only has to portray the emotional reality of her character, but also to have her in compromising situations that involve full nudity, being caressed in her private areas, and also to touch the male genital. 

Seidl doesn't cut away from the explicit nature of the material, and as a result, it can be rather difficult to watch, shocking even.  While beautifully shot, Paradise: Love fails to find an emotional core, despite the excellent efforts of Tiesel and her fellow supporting cast.  Love, as it seems, can be bought.  Yet it is rarely felt. 

The film is ultimately uneven – at once intriguing because it is so different from other European art-house features in its thematic approach, and also rather hollow in ways that don't quite make the film matter in some meaningful way.  Maybe we have to find the answers by ourselves, but Seidl doesn't quite inspire us to do any form of soul-searching.

Verdict:  Provocative and shockingly explicit, Seidl's work is ultimately uneven in its exploration of the seeming emptiness of love in a material world.

GRADE: C+ (6.5/10 or 3 stars)

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