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‘Paradise: Hope’ Movie Review – a dark, disturbing portrait of inappropriate teenage love

‘Paradise: Hope’ Movie Review – a dark, disturbing portrait of inappropriate teenage love

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Paradise: Hope
Written by Ulrich Seidl and Veronika Franz
Directed by Ulrich Seidl
Austria/France/Germany, 2013 

Until Paradise: Love premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl was a relatively unknown figure in the film world. Since then, he has released two more Paradise films to make up a trilogy with Love: Faith and this year’s Hope. With the release of the three films, Seidl has quickly propelled himself into art cinema stardom, earning comparisons to venerable filmmakers like his fellow Austrian Michael Haneke.

The films tell the story of three individual women from the same family. In Love, 50-year old Teresa travels to Kenya as a sex tourist. In Faith, Anna Maria’s Catholic faith and steadfastness is tested by various people around her. Finally, in Hope, we follow Anna Maria’s daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) as she goes to spend her summer at a diet camp. She doesn’t seem particularly phased about having to spend the summer there and makes friends quickly. Not unlike a real camp, they spend most of their time gossiping, playing games and talking about boys. The only difference is that the main boy of interest in this case is the middle-aged camp doctor (Joseph Lorenz), with whom Melanie feels she has fallen in love.

This premise could have a perfectly innocent conclusion, and if this was a more traditional coming-of-age film that might be the case. But anyone who knows Seidl’s previous works, particularly the other two parts of the Paradise trilogy, knows that this will most likely not be the road that the film goes down. What begins at first as a seemingly innocent schoolgirl crush starts to escalate quickly as the doctor becomes far more involved with Melanie than he should. Not much actually happens on screen in the way of blatantly inappropriate sexual contact between the two (as, say, in 2009’s Fish Tank), but it’s really the emotional relationship these two begin that really gets under one’s skin. Seidl does not shy away from uncomfortable situations, letting them go on for far longer than most of us probably would like.

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Melanie Lenz, a complete newcomer to acting, really shines in the role of Melanie. Throughout the film we go back and forth between sympathizing with the puppy love naïveté and the nearly abject horror of what might transpire between the two next. Most of the interactions between Melanie and the doctor are almost completely silent, but the two are able to play off each other so well and communicate so much with actions and body language that their chemistry really comes through, even though it’s not always a pleasant chemistry for the audience to observe.

Paradise: Hope is a tough sit as we watch Melanie’s teen naïveté get her into more than one uncomfortable situation. Without getting too explicit, Ulrich Seidl creates a dark and disturbing portrait of teenage love and the relative ease with which it can become corrupted by those who should know better.

– Laura Holtebrinck

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.

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