Review: 'Paradise: Hope' concludes a provocative trilogy on a humane note
BERLIN - Funny, disquieting and featuring more sexual humiliation and self-flagellation than any project with which James Franco is currently connected, Ulrich Seidl's newly completed "Paradise" trilogy has recently bombarded the European festival circuit -- in a manner unmatched since Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" films hit the Venice-Berlin-Cannes route, almost 20 years ago, in the space of just nine months. Less than a year after pitiless sex-tourism study "Paradise: Love" jolted Cannes and religious fundamentalism parable "Paradise: Faith" took a major Venice prize, the youth-focused "Paradise: Hope" has seen out the Austrian auteur's unsettling vision with a premiere closer to home at the Berlinale.
For most critics, the comparisons between Kieslowski and Seidl's narratively separable, female-led trilogies are likely to end there, though you might say both have saved, if not the best, at least the warmest for last. Standing for fraternity and bathed in the hot-blooded hues of its title, "Three Colors: Red" celebrated companionship and human reliance after two more isolationist chapters. Set on an austere-looking fat farm for neglected Austrian teenagers, "Hope" doesn't initially promise to deliver on its title, but the peculiarly tender character study that emerges is the most generous, even the most humane, of the three. (As humane, that is, as any film in which the youthful ensemble chants a recurring a chorus of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your fat" can be -- Seidl's world remains a compellingly off-kilter one).
That's a surprise and a relief after the expertly crafted "Faith" rather smugly succumbed to the low-hanging fruit dangled by its kerr-azily Christian protagonist. With the trilogy complete, the middle film now looks the odd one out, with "Love" and "Hope" plainly bonded not just by the DNA of their mother-daughter lead characters, but by a challenging mutual concern with body and self-image.
The power of "Love," so to speak, snuck up on me in the days and weeks following the numbing first impact of its severe take on middle-aged female sexuality; "Hope," however, is immediately affecting as it introduces Melli (astonishing first-time actress Melanie Lenz, aged just 13 at the time of shooting), a psychologically vulnerable, clinically obese teen only beginning to form a sense of what sexuality might be.
While her mother Teresa (the heavy anti-heroine of "Love") is promiscuously vacationing in Kenya, Melli is bundled off by aunt Anna Maria (the hawkish anti-heroine of "Faith") to an extreme weight-loss camp. Where the solidarity of like-minded and like-figured girls builds her self-esteem while dangerously accelerating her sense of obligation to her unformed libido. This unhealthy development manifests itself chiefly as a semi-predatory crush on the institution's fiftysomething doctor (Joseph Lorenz), a seemingly mild-mannered man who nonetheless indulges and abuses Melli's fantasies with inconsistent displays of affection.
The latest in a curiously abundant run of recent Austrian films to address the hot-button issue of pedophilia, Seidl's film remains admirably, ambiguously complicated about the nature and motivations of a relationship built on equal parts play-acting and genuine delusion -- much like Melli's mother's unhappy gigolo fling thousands of miles away in Africa. (The biggest audience laugh in a film that, subject matter notwithstanding, is rich in drollery came in response to a clueless phone message left my Melli, wishing her a good time in Kenya -- full acquaintance with the trilogy will help with such in-jokes and parallels, but this is still the most independently accessible film of the three.)
Seidl's keenly absurd eye for detail and physical ritual is wide open here -- abetted, as in the other two, by the stark, symmetrical compositions of cinematographer Ed Lachman ("Far From Heaven") -- with much incidental humor gleaned from the everyday operation of the fat camp. No mention is ever made of one perfectly lean young male inmate, though one can only imagine his parents are particularly demanding supermodels. As in "Love," the camera casts a calm, occasionally confrontational eye over bodies not generally seen in mainstream filmmaking as fit for visual consumption, allowing our immediate response as viewers/voyeurs to direct us to our own prejudices.
The film has an unnervingly natural ear for early-teen girl talk, too, as Melli and her new friends (notably the slightly older Verena, played by the marvelous Verena Lehbauer) shoot the shit on matters ranging from over-slobbery kisses to pubic shaving to their parents' "delayed adolescence" -- the latter an observation that, in light of the events of "Paradise: Love," suggests these kids may be smarter even than they know. They're certainly smarter than we'd like them to be, which is a large part of what makes "Paradise: Hope" so uncomfortable and exhilarating, an oddly moving finale to a trilogy that seems less ironic in long shot.
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
Let Streaming Genie help you.