Paradise: HopeThursday 01 Aug 2013
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Starring: Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas
Duration: 100 minutes
Paradise: Hope is the third film in Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, and now that it’s over and done with, there will be a general air of relief among the cinema-going public. Cinema-goers can now enjoy a suspension - until the next Seidl film presumably - of grubby, spooky scenarios which offer no sense of remedy for the ills dealt with. Seidl's films are bleak things which depict their characters in a pitilessly, often oafish light.
Paradise: Hope defiantly does not go out on a resounding, triumphant note about humankind. While someone who attended the same movie-screening as your reviewer quipped that at least the teenagers lost weight by the end of the film, I do not think this is even true.
The scenario is a grim diet bootcamp somewhere in rural Austria. It's the sort of place that during the winter is probably a school, but becomes an academy for obese young teenagers in the summer months. Thus the poor kids arrive to be greeted by an oily, tattooed gym-master (played by Michael Thomas) who treats them with sadistic disdain.
Then there is the rather colourless young woman who gets the poor kids to chant in English the following: “If you’re happy and you know it clap your fat,” which they duly do in synch on various parts of their body, as part of a dismal dance routine. Of course, this dietician or sports therapist is a sylph-like creature, who, by way of cheer-leading claps her non-existent fat. The film strings itself along on such bizarre scenes, striving to attain a kind of pointless black comedy, and, it must be said, barely succeeding.
Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is the 13-year old blonde, whose parents are divorced (as are the parents of her three dorm-mates). A ferment of hormones, she is clearly in search of a father figure of some kind, given her crush on the diet camp’s seedy doctor Artz (Joseph Lorenz) who is 40 years her senior.
Not many doctors sip whiskey and smoke cigarettes in their surgery, but this doc freely indulges these vices with no professional sanction. His demeanour and general behaviour with the flirtatious Melanie is downright unprofessional, although Seidl does stop short of anything flagrantly criminal. So, he allows his two characters enough rope to make this film disturbing, but no more.
Paradise: Hope lacks the dynamism that informed the much superior Paradise: Faith, which at least raised some real questions. It disappoints as a fairly slight voyeuristic exercise with no real thesis to make you think meaningfully about its desultory action. But notwithstanding these reservations, it is engaging nevertheless, and Seidl is doing something different in film. As a consequence he is always fascinating. Can be seen at the IFI.