Tag Archives: Melanie Lenz

Paradise: Love (2012)

  paradiselove

  Pardon my French, but these old corpulent tourist cunts need a serious kick in the teeth. I haven’t been discomforted by watching a movie like this in along time. And considering the crazy – disturbing crap I watch on a regular basis, that, my friend, is saying something!

Controversial filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s first installment  in the ‘Paradise’ trilogy takes a probing look into the world of sex tourism. 50  year  old Teresa (Margarete Tiesel ) yearns for love, but what kind of love can be found here  as a aging ‘sugar mama,’ travelling to Kenya to tempt young impoverished men with unspoken promises of material prostitution? She says at one point that she needs a man to see her for who she really is, past the saggy boobs and stretch marks and wrinkles, yet she dehumanizes the black men she shamelessly uses for sex as soulless slabs of ebony flesh.

Early on, she and a friend (Inge Maux) talk crassly and loudly about the black male as pure object in front of a young barkeep, carelessly assuming by default that the man can’t understand a thing they’re saying. In one fell swoop, a sensual, vibrant country which a rich culture and history is reduced to a kitschy tourist trap where unattractive old women go to get fucked and idly take in the scenery. This is reflected in the apparent belief by the tourists that they can learn a few trite words and phrases in Swahili and they’re fully assimilated into Kenyan culture.

The nudity and sexual content here is frank verging in a uncomfortable striptease scene as unnecessarily  pornographic  and the raw nakedness displayed on screen is not always flattering, especially as far as the women are concerned. I have to admit, the extended stripping/boner scene took this movie down a few notches for me, having crossed the line in my eyes and become borderline pornography, but the movie itself is a deliciously ambiguous portrayal of male objectification and casual racism.

The thing about this story is that these women, these fat horny lumps of pitiful desperation, probably don’t see themselves as racist. They think they’re being complimentary, reducing their boy toys to pieces of sex meat. But they’re not. They’re gross and repugnant and they don’t even know it. They’re not being any more complimentary than if an old man looked at a young black woman and called her ‘brown sugar’ and asked her to come into the bathroom for a quickie.

So that’s why I didn’t feel bad for Teresa when she was used by her Kenyan sex partner (Peter Kezungu)  for her hard-earned cash. Any sympathy I had for her initially was snuffed out by the last scene, where the story shoots straight down into a sexual and psychological hell. How desperate and hot to trot can one person be? Pretty desperate, apparently. And who says women can’t be predators? It might be harder to physically overpower a man, but that doesn’t mean you can have psychological power or fiscal power over him. Both kinds of power are bountiful in this disquieting film.

“Paradise: Love” ties into the two later films in the trilogy thematically, and it features Maria Hoffstatter as Teresa’s religious fanatic sister (the lead in the 2nd film) and Melanie Lenz as Teresa’s heavyset, sexually curious daughter (lead in the 3rd, and final film) in  small roles. There’s a lot of static shots, reminiscent of Michael Haneke, moments that seem incredibly quiet in contrast to the extremely emotionally painful things that are going on. There’s  hardly any violence, but there’s a barely contained sense of menace, of something terrible just waiting to happen in this outwardly sunny habitat.

Margarete Teisel is the perfect person to play Teresa, and I mean that in a totally complimentary way  my point is not just that she is dowdy and plump, but also that she conveys insecurity and desperation well, carries it in her shoulders. She’s not too pretty, but also she gives the impression of being ordinary in every way, even desperately so. Not too beautiful, not too smart– just a sad person struggling with her mediocrity, 

Even with minimal on-screen violence, “Paradise: Love” will make you squirm in your seat for it’s unique vision of subjugation and power play. It’s not my favorite film in the trilogy in fact, it’s probably my least liked of the three but it still has it’s ‘hey, this filmmaker is really getting at something here’ moments. And it doesn’t really matter that I saw the trilogy all out of order each film tells it’s own, desperate story, with minimal confusion plotwise. Watch it if you dare- it’s definitely a taboo shattering film.

Paradise Love

Paradise: Hope (2013)

ParadiseHope_300dpi

Raging hormones. Sexual frustration. Adolescent rebellion. A lot can go on during a summer at fat camp.

Cute, heavyset 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a weight management camp by her Aunt (Maria Hofstatter) when her mother goes off on vacation to Kenya. Not as bitter as you might expect, Melanie quickly makes friends with a more sexually experienced girl (Verena Lehbauer) and develops a heart-stopping crush on the camp’s middle-aged physician (Joseph Lorenz,) who is unnervingly receptive to her girlish flirtations.

“Paradise: Love” is the third in a trilogy, Ulrich Seidl’s thematic follow-up to “Paradise: Love,” focusing on Melanie’s horny sex tourist mother, and “Paradise: Faith,” following the daily life of the religious fanatic aunt (portrayed briefly in this film) who takes her love for Jesus into the realm of obsession. We fear for Melanie watching “Paradise: Hope.” Desperately hoping that she will not get over her head pining for this older man.

Never during the conversations between the fat camp teens do we get the impression that they are acting. They talk, look, and feel like real people- making themselves out to be more experienced then they are, discussing past escapades with a knowing air, playing spin the bottle giddily while drunk on cheap beer.

This is a movie that understands teen angst and desire and the mad contrast in the level of experience and sexual maturity of adolescent kids (while Melanie’s friend plays the part of an adult, wise in the ways of men, another camp girl still walks around clad in a pink Hello Kitty shirt and many of the kids remain hopelessly naive.)

The teens alternately understand a lot and see a lot more than the adults give them credit for and don’t know a damn thing- about love, about relationships, about the forbidden power a child can have over an adult. Melanie craves tenderness. She wants to feel loved and desired by this aging but virile man. Her instructor’s desire is less emotional, more carnal.

A bit of a dirty old man, he finds attentions from a virginal thirteen-year-old almost to much too resist. The viewer desperately watches events unfold, afraid for Melanie’s sexual and emotional health. Will the object of her affections play the part of a classic predator, everything your mother ever warned you about… or a blessing in disguise?

An almost complete lack of music reigns over this dark but tremulously hopeful story. There’s lots of shots of the teens trying to get into shape while their instructor (Michael Thomas) sternly guides them, eating low fat food in the dining hall, and chatting in their dorms, with few intimate close-up’s, giving an almost fly-on-the-wall feeling to the film. The performances are naturalistic and restrained, showing burgeoning promise in Melanie Lenz.

I wish people online would stop describing Melanie’s character as trying to ‘seduce’ her pediatrician. That man was sending Melanie signals loud and clear, in a playful but totally inappropriate way. Look at the scene where the man follows her hungrily into the woods, looming threateningly in the frame, predatory even as she casts looks upon him beseeching him to follow her. Melanie’s girlish ignorance of the consequences of her crush remain abundantly clear despite her pursuit of the much older man.

Melanie is a kid, for all intents and purposes, albeit a curvy, physically mature one. As far as I’m concerned this is a movie about a flirtation that wouldn’t have gone nearly so far had the adult acted in a grown-up way and gently rebuffed the child from the get-go.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this film was the ending. It seemed to end a bit too cryptically, even by European art film standards and I wasn’t wild about the strange and slightly creepy way it went down. Somehow a story revolving around sexual tension between an adult and a child manages to avoid being gross and exploitative- until that scene in the bar. It’s one of those films where you ask, is the hero-slash-heroine going to be okay?- and in this case you just don’t know.

Though slightly less dark than “Paradise: Faith” (I watched the trilogy all out of order, leaving the first installment for last,) “Paradise: Hope” has it’s share of uncomfortable moments and taboo subject matter. For the most part, though, it establishes director Seidl as less of a creepy old man with a camera and more as an observer of life- the discomforting parts, the parts maybe not everybody can talk about, even the ugly parts- to not sordid, but spectacularly real effect. It’s a story that couldn’t have been told in America, and are you really going to fault it there? Controversial, but more palpable that you might think considering the subject matter.

paradise-hope-movie