Tuesday, November 06, 2012

35th Starz Denver Film Festival: Paradise: Love & Paradise: Faith

Released as the first installment in writer-director-producer Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise trilogy," a set of three features that the Austrian filmmaker first conceived as a single epic-length work, Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe, 2012) follows the late middle-aged Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) as she travels to coastal Kenya for an extended stint of sex tourism. Upon arriving, Teresa joins a similarly robust friend (Inge Maux) who details the ease with which she has secured a young, well-endowed lover. Teresa accordingly commences with her own search for erotic companionship, a process that is simplified somewhat by the crowds of young males who offer goods (and implicitly, their services) to the seashore's female visitors, Teresa included. (Paradise: Love's extreme gap between its wealthy neo-colonialist tourists and its colonized Kenyan under-class occasions a reversal of the traditional economics of sex.) Teresa ultimately settles on Munga (Peter Kazungu) who, to the lead's mind, chivalrously saves her from her more aggressive suitors. Munga seems to understand Teresa's desire to be courted, something that her first potential hook-up misses as he attempts to force himself on the lead in a narrow hotel room. Indeed, throughout Paradise: Love, Seidl shows a special facility for shooting constricted interior spaces (like the aforesaid hotel bedroom) with his often static camera frequently holding for extended intervals on the narrative's darkly comedic interactions. Seidl privileges duration over movement and scale as he produces long takes that speak less to the composition of the image over time than to a stubborn unwillingness to end his shots, to cut. In Paradise: Love, Seidl frequently makes his spectator feel as though she or he has overstayed their welcome, as, most spectacularly, when birthday-girl Teresa and her fellow Germanic tourists fail in their attempts to arouse a lanky male sex worker in one of the film's more graphic set-pieces.

Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube, 2012), Seidl's second installment - the third is planned for release in 2013 - manifests an even more more rigorous relationship between its form and content, thanks in particular to Faith's reliance on thematically meaningful, confined domestic settings. The irony implied by the film's title, in the pattern established by Paradise: Love (with its conspicuous absence of liebe), is particularly well suited to the filmmaker's static frontal set-ups of Anna Maria's (Maria Hofstätter) kitschy Austrian home. Seidl's immobile, symmetric part two framing emphatically presents the film's religious fanaticism in a manner that is at once clinical and deadpan; it professes a lack of commentary to accompany its intrinsic (ironic) criticality. Outside her own home, in a series of evangelically minded visits to a progressively more hostile set of immigrant households, the careful circumscription of Anna Maria's home life disappears, with Seidl's ever looser camera work capturing the increasing chaos of the respective scenes. The unexpected return of Anna's wheelchair-bound Muslim husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) contributes, to an even greater degree, to Anna's destabilization and ultimate crisis of faith. At the same time, the presence of Nabil also crystallizes a set of references from Fassbinder (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, 1974) to von Trier (Breaking the Waves, 1996) to Buñuel (Viridiana, 1961) as Paradise: Faith devolves into a pitch-black, if somehow still subtly comedic struggle between the sexually frustrated Nabil and his bride of Christ wife.

This piece was co-written by Michael J. Anderson and Lisa K. Broad.

Paradise: Love will screen at the Starz Denver Film Festival on Friday, November 9th at 1:30 PM, Saturday, November 10th at 10:00 PM and Sunday, November 11th at 2:15 PM. Paradise: Faith screens on Thursday, November 8th at 2:15 PM, Saturday, November 10th at 11:30 AM and Sunday, November 11th at 7:45 PM. 

3 comments:

Lasse Winther Jensen said...

Excellent coverage of the festival. What did you think of Seidl's previous films Dog Days and Import/Export?

And have you seen Apichatpong's Mekong Hotel? I saw it some days ago and was somewhat underwhelmed.

Michael J. Anderson said...

Thanks, Lasse. Save for "Models," I am new to Seidl. Having said that, I found both "Paradise" films to be of enough interest to explore those films you mention. (I know "Import/Export" is particular favorite of occasional Tativille contributor Jeremi Szaniawski.) What are your thoughts on the director?

And no, I have not been able to see "Mekong Hotel" yet. I think the general consensus is where you are on that film, though I do have a friend or two who were more favorable.

Lasse Winther Jensen said...

Mekong Hotel is by no means bad, it's just slight, minor Apichatpong. But still indispensable, of course. He ups the ante yet another notch on the meta-aspects.

I like Seidl when he is less sneering and judgmental and more human and complex. Dog Days is very entertaining (albeit in a rather repulsive way), but also one-dimensional. Think late Roy Anderson completely devoid of humanism. Import/Export is far better in my opinion. It has some very striking locations, actual characters and complex cross-cultural relations (the ditto relations in Dog Days (and seemingly also the trilogy?) strike me as rather shallow and a bit pointless). He is indeed a master of his particular style, but often that style seems easily exhausted and weirdly unambitious. I'm not quite sure I've understood his agenda.

His world-view is similar to other Austrian directors, but he seems to be much more one dimensional and - paradoxically? - less daring than eg. Haneke, Glawogger or Haussner (have you seen her Lourdes? A very accomplished work in my opinion).