Wednesday 20 September 2017

Paradise lost

Paradise: Love
Paradise: Love

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Paradise: Love (No Cert, IFI, 120 minutes) 3 STARS

Director: Ulrich Seidl Stars: Margarethe Tiesel, Peter Kazangu, Dunja Sowinetz, Inge Maux

Those of you who go to the cinema to renew your faith in human nature might want to give this one a wide birth.

In his last film, Import/ Export, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl spent two hours and 20 minutes exploring the miserable life of an eastern European internet sex worker. And Paradise: Love chooses a no less daunting theme.

Seidl's apparently obsessive interest in the sexual impulse is once again to the fore, but this film does boast a really wonderful central performance from Margarethe Tiesel.

She plays Teresa, a 50-year-old Austrian who travels to Kenya for an exotic break from her humdrum life. She's the single mother of a truculent teenage daughter, works in a home for people with special needs and lives in a shoebox high-rise flat. A woman well deserving of a holiday, then, but when Teresa arrives on the Kenyan coast we quickly discover she has more in mind than sun, sea and sand.

When she meets a fellow countrywoman of similar vintage at a poolside bar, she hears of the untold joys to be had by hiring 'beach boys', young male prostitutes who'll do seemingly anything for what in Austrian terms is a pittance.

Tiesel is exceptionally good in the lead role, and exposes herself both emotionally and physically in a series of grim sex scenes that are the opposite of erotic.

For a good 90 minutes, Seidl cleverly acknowledges the humanity of Teresa's lonely desires while making it plain that she and her friends use all the clichés of central European racism to safely dehumanise the young boys they exploit.

But as in Import/Export, Seidl's sex scenes verge on the exploitative themselves, and a late scenario involving a young prostitute surrounded by sneering women is as un-illuminating as it is unpleasant to watch.

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