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Paradies: Hoffnung (Paradise: Hope)
Austria/France/Germany 2013

Opening 16 May 2013

Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Writing credits: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Principal actors: Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas, Viviane Bartsch

He did it – the hat trick! The controversial Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl showed Paradies: Hope, the finale of his trilogy Love, Faith, Hope at the Berlinale 2013. The films were shown at three successive major film festivals. The first was Paradies: Liebe (Paradise: Love) seen at Cannes and Paradies: Glaube (Paradise: Faith) at Venice. Each film concentrates on one woman’s effort to come to terms with unfulfilled longings. Ulrich Seidl’s strength and trademark is his typical documentary style with exaggerated formal settings and carefully arranged colour coding.

Whilst Liebe looks at Teresa, a lonely middle-aged woman looking for sex in Kenya; in Glaube we suffer with her sister, a religious Christian zealot, who is fighting against sex by flagellating herself. Seidl’s last film Hope brings it together with introducing Teresa’s 13-year-old daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) discovering first love. The chubby teenager spends her school vacation in a “diet camp” with other overweight boys and girls. It is not much of a holiday to be lectured by a reed-thin dietician and being drilled by a bullying trainer. Having the youngsters running around him in a circle, like circus horses, looks ridiculous – but also funny. It’s embarrassing to listen to their chorus of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your fat…” instead of “clap your hands” like in the children’s song. Luckily, the girls make the most of their stay. They secretly meet at night for a smoke and a drink, giggle together or share their hopes and insecurities. One night they even raid the kitchen for sweets (a very amusing scene). During the regular medical check-ups with the camp’s doctor (Joseph Lorenz) Melanie shyly falls in love with the rather neurotic man. He is 40 years her senior, likes her too but is awkwardly fighting his feelings.

At the time of shooting Melanie Lenz was only 13 years old and had no real acting experience, except at school plays. Her acting in Hope is very natural and totally convincing. She teams up well with her film-girlfriend Verena Lehbauer, 16 years at the time. Listening to them cuddling together in one bed, exchanging girly secrets, feels like eavesdropping. The camera team, Wolfgang Thaler and Ed Lachman, perfectly catch the atmosphere of serenity but also of cheerfulness.

As for the film’s theme: is there “Hope” for paradise? All three female protagonists of the trilogy are going through emotional sufferings, striving for happiness against all odds. All three films show a strong physical awareness. It is Seidl’s way of criticizing society’s insistence on beauty standards. (Birgit Schrumpf)

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