If you are looking for sexual tension between a minor and an adult for 100 minutes of something that makes you feel uncomfortable, then Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope, the third in the Paradise Trilogy, is for you.
Melanie (Melanie Lenz), an overweight teen, spends her holiday at a fat camp along with a handful of other overweight and socially awkward teens. While at the camp, she experiences a combination of love and lust for her older camp pediatrician. Melanie seeks the help of her more sexually experienced friend Verena (Verena Lehbauer). While they’re together, Melanie and Verena discuss the ins and outs of sex, their feelings, and what Melanie should do in order to secure the older man she most desires. Melanie ends up stalking him, sitting outside his office just to see him or sitting near his car where she begs him to take her home with him.
Director Ulrich Seidl, who co-wrote the film with Veronika Franz, pushes boundaries by showing that the pediatrician may also have sexual feelings for Melanie. The attraction seems obvious after a few awkward scenes in his office where the two stare longingly into each other’s eyes and seem oddly close to each other upon taking off a few articles of clothing.
There are a few moments where I was sure that something would have happen that should not; a kiss, a touch or even sex, but it never happened. It was great to avoid the uncomfortable taboo of the situation, but it was annoying to be strung along throughout the film as well.
Despite avoiding obvious taboos, there were still a few scenes where I felt uncomfortable. Towards the middle of the film, some of the kids hang out in one of the dorm rooms for an evening of fun. Somehow, someone managed to smuggle some beer into the camp. As they grew more intoxicated, they played an uncomfortable game of spin the bottle. Right before some of the kids were fully nude, the pediatrician bursts into the room to thankfully put an end to it.
Later in the film, Melanie and Verena sneak out the camp wearing their best attire, and by best attire, I mean their most inappropriate clothing. Already drunk, they make their way to a small bar where they dance with each other and flirt with two older men. One of the men forces Melanie to drink far more than she should. When she is passing out, the two take her to a backroom where one starts to undress her as the other one records. The men eventually get caught and the scene abruptly cuts to the next morning where the pediatrician picks up Melanie from the bar to take her back to the camp. He parks the car, with her passed out in the back seat, and looks at her longingly. He then drives to the woods where he takes her out of the car, lays her in the grass, and proceeds to sniff her. That was the end of the scene (yes, really).
Despite my annoyance with the directionless plot, the film definitely had some qualities. The overall colors of the scenery at the camp were shades of gray, which really portrayed the atmosphere and feelings of gloom of a bunch of teens at a camp that did not wish to be there. Seidl also used extended scenes of activity, focusing on background noises and individual teens at the camp to better paint a portrait of the camp. There was a lot to look at, listen to, and take in.
I did not see the two previous films in the trilogy. That might make the difference in understanding this film in its entirety. Regardless, this film is a work of art, from its dark, teasing plot to its cinematography. The film proves a point that the viewer does not always know what is going to happen. It kept me on edge with its potential crossing of boundaries.