Saturday, 8 September 2012

PARADISE: LOVE - TIFF 2012 Reviewed By Greg Klymkiw Ulrich Seidl, the "bad-boy" of Austrian cinema is back with this searingly funny, powerful and harrowing drama against the backdrop of Kenya's sex tourism industry. He deftly plumbs the extremities of human behaviour in order to reveal humanity in all its disparate forms and with the weight and resonance of its tragic beauty.

Paradise: Love (2012) *****
TIFF 2012 - Contemporary World Cinema
dir. Ulrich Seidl
Starring:Margarethe Tiesel, Peter Kazungu

Review By Greg Klymkiw
"Never have I looked so directly into hell."
-Werner Herzog on Animal Love, by Ulrich Seidl

One almost imagines an off-screen Julie Andrews singing "These are a Few of My Favourite Things" as the lens of filmmaker Ulrich Seidl greedily drinks in globs of fleshy pink corpulence jiggling like mounds of jello, streaked with road maps of stretch marks boring through virtual mountain ranges of cellulite and grotesque cauliflower-like skin tags gripping desperately to spongy thighs like bats in a cave. But no, as the blonde blob adorned in a sun hat flip-flops onto the sunny airport tarmac of a Kenyan resort, surrounded by her equally porcine 40-50-something Austrian maidens, she is greeted with the happy voices of a welcoming party as they joyfully croon "Hakuna Matata." Once happily ensconced in the paradise of the resort, our jolly Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) ogles the rich, lithe, cocoa bodies of her male hosts, salivating with the same delightful desire she might express when gazing upon a platter of rich Viennese pastries, imagining the joy of stuffing them all down her expansive, greedy gullet.

That said, Teresa looks like someone's mother.

And indeed she is. She's left her nasty, blubbery smart-phone-obsessed daughter in the capable care of an aunt. Also behind her is the daily toil of caring for extremely mentally challenged adults. However, the loneliness permeating her single parent existence will soon be filled to overflowing. "Filled" is indeed the operative word here.

She will soon enter the pleasurable heart of darkness known as sex tourism and we know, within seconds, that we have plunged ourselves yet again into the wonderful world of Ulrich Seidl. As noted by director Werner Herzog upon seeing Seidl's early documentary Animal Love, we too are looking "directly into hell".

Seidl is no ordinary obsessive. He's an artist with one of the most unique voices in contemporary cinema. His early documentaries exposed things about humanity (and by extension, ourselves) that we all try to deny as being within us and the rest of the whole wide world. Where Seidl differs from traditional documentarians is his insistence upon shooting in long takes - expertly composed shots with exquisite lighting (or in some cases, starkly appropriate such as when his camera trained itself upon the aforementioned individuals who truly loved their animals - a lot!)

All this went several steps further, however, once Seidl switched gears in 2001 and began to apply his unique mise-en-scene and obsessions in the world of drama with what is inarguably still his greatest picture Dog Days.

Paradise: Love isn't too far behind in terms of its brilliance and impact. The tale of the aforementioned Teresa might prove far to unsettling for some, but like all Seidl, patience and perseverance with pay off.

Some accuse him of being little more than a cinematic equivalent to a freakshow impresario, but this is to remain myopic to what he's really up to. Seidl is indeed a humanist who seeks his quarry amongst the extremities of mankind (and most notably in the backyards of Austria).

With Paradise: Love, Seidl unflinchingly charts a woman's descent into satisfying her most basic sexual needs by exploiting those who are so poor they will do whatever they have to do in order to survive.

Teresa parades along the Kenyan beaches in outfits that accentuate her strudel and schnitzel induced corpulence.

It's her fat face emblazoned with lustful wonder that ultimately betrays her slatternly desires. Surrounded by eager, young and almost criminally gorgeous Kenyan men who vie for her attention in the hope she'll buy a lot more than the trinkets they have on offer, Teresa eventually sets her sights on one young lad who, on every level, offers just what she wants.

And as Seidl's camera unflinchingly reveals, what some of these young lads have to offer is jaw-droppingly succulent. I dare even strictly heterosexual male viewers to not fantasize about dropping their own jaws to take in the stunning magnificence that dangles between the thighs of these heartbreakingly beautiful young men. With their smooth gentle voices, glisteningly ripped bodies and irrepressibly insistent promises of the love they will provide, it's not hard to believe that Teresa and her ilk might actually believe it is LOVE they are paying for, not sex.

As per usual in Seidl's dramas, the script is a springboard for the drama created in lengthy, intensive improvisations between professional actors and real people. This results in a number of especially harrowing moments. For all the genuine dark humour the movie generates, there are just as many sequences when Seidl's camera catches the eyes of the beautiful young men (who are indeed - in real life - dirt poor and who have provided their services to women like Teresa many times in their lives).

Their eyes betray desperation and terror. The performances of non-actors and actors alike are imbued with reality and poignancy - so much so that it eventually becomes impossible to laugh and you are, in turn, indelibly overwhelmed and saddened with the naked truth of the world we live in. Humanity is indeed at the top of the food chain, but as it devours its own with through-the-roof relish and frequency, one can only despair at where it will all lead us.

Seidl leaves us with a Kenyan folk music group performing "Hakuna Matata" which, in Swahili is literally translated into English as "There are no worries."

No worries, indeed.

"Paradise: Love" is playing at the Toronto International Film Festival 2012 (TIFF 2012) Saturday September 8 Isabel Bader Theatre 9:15 AM and Sunday September 16 Cineplex Yonge & Dundas 7 9:30 AM. For tickets visit the TIFF website HERE.