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.