Though originally designed a single film telling three interlocking stories, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's Paradise project ended up becoming three separate films focusing each one one of the stories. After Paradies: Liebe (Paradise: Love, premiered at Cannes 2012) and Paradies: Glaube (Paradise: Faith, revealed in Venice 2012), Berlin 2013 presented Hoffnung (Hope), where overweight teenage Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is shipped off to a weight-loss camp for teenagers while her mother is off to Kenya and her aunt is evangelizing around Vienna.

     Melanie's mother is the sex tourist of the first film (never seen here), while her aunt (Maria Hofstätter, who has a brief cameo at the beginning) is the religious zealot from the second. Yet this is probably the sweetest and least confrontational of the three films, and probably in the entire career of the Austrian director, one of the most notable of the current wave of local filmmakers that also includes Michael Haneke, Michael Glawogger or Markus Schleinzer. Mr. Seidl has become known by his daringly entomological portraits of modern society and the ruthlessly clinical way in which he shoots them, posing the viewer as mere spectator of his perfectly poised, geometrical long set-ups that describe and reduce the power games within any given group to its immediate essence. Here, adolescence is the subject, as the director follows the way that Melanie fits in and connects with the other teenagers in the camp, watching as they naturally gravitate to and away from each other - the fact that the camp is set up in what seems like a school complex deserted for the summer makes it even more of a controlled experiment in social mores. But the director's eye never stoops to looking at these kids as mere specimens; instead we see them as young people trying to make their way in the world and not quite knowing how.

     Over the daily exercises and chores performed as a group, Mr. Seidl shows how Melanie and her friends abandon themselves to standard teenage behaviours or evade adult supervision, but also how she develops a crush on the doctor in charge of the group (Joseph Lorenz), and slowly, in a self-aware fashion, begins to seduce him - with the man (who remains unnamed throughout) seemingly answering in kind (leading to the film's most daring yet also most surprising narrative development). Juxtaposing her crass seductions as a measure of identity and individualism against the rigid framework of a cookie-cutter camp whose good intentions are unlikely to actually guarantee results, Mr. Seidl paints with his usual dispassionate detachment a disenchanted portrait of a lost modern adolescence, stuck in a rut, already going through the motions. But his entomologist's eye never stoops to looking at these kids as mere specimens; instead we see them as young people trying to make their way in the world and not quite knowing how.

Cast: Melanie Lenz, Joseph Lorenz
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Screenplay: Mr. Seidl, Veronika Franz
Cinematography: Wolfgang Thaler, Ed Lachman (colour)
Designers: Andreas Donhauser, Renate Martin
Costumes: Tanja Häusner
Editor: Christof Scherbenlos
Producer: Mr. Seidl (Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion in co-production with Tatfilm, Parisienne de Production, ARTE France Cinéma and ARD Degeto)
Austria/Germany/France, 2012, 91 minutes

Screened: Berlin Film Festival 2013 official competition advance press screening, Cinemaxx am Potsdamer Platz 9 (Berlin), February 7th 2013

Trailer: PARADIES: Hoffnung (Ulrich Seidl) from Stadtkino Filmverleih on Vimeo.


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