Paradise over

OUT NOW! Ulrich Seidl's conclusion to his trilogy with PARADIES: HOFFNUNG ends on a high in a unlikely location: a diet camp for teenage girls.

The end of the Paradise trilogy

The Austrian director’s Paradise trilogy got off to a strong start: in Liebe (Love) – the most topical and graphically aesthetic of the three – milk-complexioned ladies meet shiny black bodies, Africa-blue sky, turquoise sea. Glaube (Faith) traded relevance for easy shock value, but just who is supposed to be provoked by a hysterical evangelist masturbating with a crucifix? Hoffnung (Hope) is neither as topical nor as outwardly provocative, but ultimately more affecting in its meandering ambiguity.

Her mum away in Kenya (where, as we know from Liebe, she’s indulging in sex tourism), 13-year-old overweight Melanie is reluctantly spending her own holidays in a diet camp for teenagers. There she falls for the enigmatic camp boss and doctor – her senior by far – who seems to play along… The film displays a lot of Seidel’s trademark cruelty and his usual cynicism.

Still, beneath the thick layer of crude scrutiny of female adolescence as trapped in oversized bodies, there is a flicker of “hope”. What looks at first like a ruthless investigation of one more symptom of Western degeneration, as played out through the delusions of a silly little fatty and the desire of a potential paedophile, turns out to be a quiet tragedy of (potentially reciprocated) impossible love, the most poignant seen on film in a long time.

Paradies: Hoffnung | Directed by Ulrich Seidl (France, Germany, Austria 2012) with Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz. Starts May 16

Originally published Issue #116, May 2013