Derek Winnert

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This article was written on 04 Aug 2013, and is filled under Reviews.

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Paradise: Hope – Film Review

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In the final film of Austrian writer-director Ulrich Seidl’s striking trilogy, it’s the turn of the 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) to take centre stage. While her mum is in Kenya engaging enthusiastically in sexual tourism (Paradise: Love), Melanie is taken by her aunt to a mainly girls’ fat camp, or here a diet camp, to lose a bit of weight and gain a bit of discipline under the scrutiny of a strict sports trainer (Michael Thomas).

Instead, she befriends another girl called Verena (Verena Lehbauer) and the two of them obsess about sex, drink beer, play spin the bottle to loud music at night, break into the kitchen for goodies, then out of the prison-like building compound to a nightclub, where Melanie meets a boy and gets passed-out drunk. Worse still, she gets a hopeless crush on the camp’s middle-aged doctor (Joseph Lorenz), whose very ambiguous attitude to her encourages her, even if it stops just quite short of being abusive.

Unsurprisingly, with this title, there is precious little hope. The only hope is being thin, I guess, and there seems no question of that. The film is ultra-disturbing in its quiet little way, and runs in a hypnotically monotonous fashion, as the kids are relentlessly drilled in gym and walking workouts.

What it all means, if anything, it’s hard to say. You are subtly and challengingly required to make your own mind up about it. If you want, you could easily condemn every character here for their selfishness, narcissism, greed and just plain pig-headed stupidities. Or you could understand them, pardon them, and say, well actually, they’re just like you and me.

But, whatever you make of it, it’s a terrifically good screenplay, anyway, subtle and spare, matched by the terrifically good direction.

After three films a happy ending would have been nice, though, an a bit of hope. If that’s what you want, stay well clear of this movie and its director, who obviously goes in for quite a bit of irony (especially in his film titles), as well as despair about the human condition. This is one of the bleakest coming-of-age dramas in memory.

With their characters so convincingly written and well developed, the film is brilliantly acted, by the way, especially by the kids who are so very young and inexperienced. You’d think they’d had a lifetime of acting experience, they’re so effortlessly word and deed perfect. The parts of the two main grown-ups can’t really have been nice to play, especially the creepy doctor, so a lot of praise has to go to Lorenz and Thomas for sterling, convincing work under stress.

Challenging cinema, with a touch of greatness.

(C) Derek Winnert 2013

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