Feature

Paradise: Found

Chad W. Lutz
While the idea of paradise brings to mind a broad range of emotions and images different for everyone, most will probably agree it evokes a sort of beautiful and serene landscape without care, cause or concern. Simplicity maybe comes to mind, or perhaps tranquility; deserted beaches with only a special someone, a few cocktails and a pink-painted sky at sunset lingering just the right amount of time above the horizon to serve as company. This is probably the most stereotypical rendering of “paradise” that one could come up with, but it represents several universal themes that probably resonate deeply with the average person.
(Lutz 2013)
Penis. Vagina. Jesus. Semen. Menstruation. Kissing. Cellulite. Intercourse. Crucifixion. Death. Love. Faith. Hope…

…Alright, I think we’re good; I think I’ve properly set the mood. Shall we?


Ulrich Seidl doesn’t give a fuck about any of those ideas. In fact, Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise Trilogy very clearly shows audiences where they can cram those “socially resonating” ideals.

My experiences with German, Austrian and French films are limited, unless you count pornography, but we’re not going to go there, or at least not all the way there (you’ll see). It’s no secret that Europeans have a more relaxed take on sexuality, and life in general. Nude beaches, public displays of affection, nudity on cable television, widespread acceptance of homosexual and transgender relationships and large sex and drug tourism markets represent marquee differences between European and the overly conflicted American cultures. The worst thing I think I’ve ever seen in a movie produced in the United States was Hostel’s snipping of the eyeball. Eyes Wide Shut’s orgy comes to mind, but both pale in comparison to the unsavory yet wholly captivating images used in Seidl’s movies.

As suggested by their titles, each Paradise film explores a certain aspect of humanity. The first examines Love, and the lengths to which some people go to attain it, even if it means buying it. The second demonstrates the disconnect and harm that can occur when you put too much stock in anything. And the third plays around with the idea of hope. But the way in which Seidl goes about exploring these ideas is really where the true brilliance of the trilogy shines. I’m not a shut-in, nor do I consider myself a wild child, but there were many points during each of these films where all one could do was laugh out loud in utter disbelief of what was transpiring on screen. I’ve never been to an X-rated theater, but I feel as though I may have walked away from the Paradise Trilogy with an idea of what it might be like to watch two, full-grown men penetrate each other on screen while sitting next to 100 strangers.
Crowds lineup outside the Yellow Theatre for a 6:30pm showing of Paradise: Hope 4/11 (Lutz 2013)
Paradise: Love tells the story Teresa, an aging single mother who goes on holiday in Kenya. There she checks into a beautiful, oceanfront hotel, befriends other native Austrians, and then, in customary fashion, dabbles in the local sex trade, and why not? Alone on vacation and facing another birthday without someone to call lover, wrinkles on your forehead getting deeper and deeper, a daughter that doesn’t respect you, a growing midsection, bags under your eyes hanging lower and lower and men taking less and less notice of you, who wouldn’t? Seidl plays on common sinsecurities brought on by age and death and lights their fuses with the social construct of love and the need to feel pretty, beautiful and appreciated. There’s a scene where Teresa’s newfound group of cronies buys her a male prostitute and the gang attempts, for 15 solid minutes, to get him hard with the entire ordeal played out right in front of audiences. I think the director uses the near-pornographic nature of the film to hint at our own grotesque images we sometimes have of ourselves and to leave the audience with an understanding that despite how we might feel, sinking to lows in order to fill needs is nothing more than a cop out and generally leaves us feeling more sad and pathetic than we did to begin with.

Paradise: Faith follows ----Teresa’s sister Anna, who in her spare time goes door-to-door wielding two-foot statues of the Virgin Mary in attempts to convert, instill or reintroduce the Catholic faith into others lives. Once a week, Anna hosts a group of friends to share in their love of Christ in her home. She does not drink, she does not smoke and she does not watch TV. These are all sins to Anna, who also enjoys sacrificing her flesh for the Lord by stripping down and flailing her body. This is actually how the second installment begins: two minutes of a very naked, busty Anna thrashing her back with a flail in retribution for the “sexual deviants” of the world.

Paradise: Hope serves as the final installment in the Paradise Trilogy and covers the escapades of young Melanie, Teresa’s daughter, at diet camp. For those of you who have seen it, the movie plays out in much the same vein as Heavyweights. The campers check-in, compare secret stashes of food and get ordered around by egotistical camp counselors.

Perkisize!

Melanie becomes infatuated with the camp physician and tries with all her might to seduce the older gentleman, who is 50 to her 13. But, unlike the other Paradise films, Hope offers little in the way of unforgettable nudity of sacrilege. Instead, the film stands as an ironic play on the titles themselves. Love and Faith set a sinister tone you would almost expect to find in Hope, but the movie ends in all-too forgettable fashion. Melanie hopes to find herself romantically involved with the physician, but in the end has her heart broken and the affair is put to an end. I exited Paradise: Hope in much the same way; feeling as if I had my hopes dashed. But I get it, the first two films build in intensity and then Seidl has his way with the audience in the third movie, does us on all fronts. It’s genius, and teaches valuable lessons in the ideas of Love, Faith, and Hope.

Of the three movies, Paradise: Faith held the most “unsavory” surprises, but it raised the most questions, and also served as my personal favorite. After sometime away, Anna’s husband returns a paraplegic and quickly learns of his wife’s new leading man: Christ. Instead of getting to sleep in his bed, she forces him to sleep on the couch without so much as an explanation than, “That’s where you sleep.” She denies his sexual advances, tells him she’s glad he’s crippled because it means he can lead a cleaner life than he used to, and pays him little mind, in general. Tempers flare, both sides play antagonist, and the feud eventually boils over, pitting one side against the other in a war of beliefs. Nearly a week later I still have the vivid images of Faith lingering in my mind.

Love and Hope, Faith. What do these all mean to the average moviegoer, to the average individual? Cinema offers a multi-sensory window into these realms. Events like the Cleveland International Film Festival bring people together to discuss these ideas without ever engaging the audience in actual conversation. It’s a different kind of conversation, a paradise, if you will, like an auditory and visual vernal pool of collective consciousness we all drop out and tap into an hour and a half or two hours at a time. We feel what our peers feel without ever having to ask the question, “Did you see that?” Maybe it’s represented in a smile, or maybe even tears or indifference? But it’s a paradise nonetheless; pure, unadulterated recollection of emotion in tranquility, precisely what Romantic Era poet William Wordsworth described in his historic Preface to a Lyrical Ballad. “Poetry is the recollection of emotion in tranquility.” Perhaps Ulrich Seidl was trying to get us to reflect on our own intrinsic ugliness in order to understand the commonality of the idea, that we all feel insecurities, and mediums like film can help bridge those gaps so we all feel a little less alone in our own personal paradise.

No sympathy for the savage heart.