There’s potential for vice in the leitmotif of Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise: Love”: aging alone will make you do strange things.
When Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), an Austrian divorcée pushing sixty travels to Kenya, it’s to experience a duplicitous nirvana of sea, sand and the local sexual tourism. She seeks men and the carnal pleasures afforded by them on a continent she knows nothing about.
Local youth swarms Kenya’s beach resorts peddling beach jewelry, tours, and sex and bloated, pink-hued sugar mamas like Teresa come in hoards and with well-garnished wallets. Seidl’s film makes a statement both about our hypersexualized society and Africa’s submissive tendencies.
Once settled at her hotel Teresa meets up with other women at the downstairs bar; they have their cocktails, and laugh at the locals’ simple demeanor. Give those chubby lasses a chance and they’ll colonize everything around them, likely, starting with the male genitalia. The greed of the Westerner is on full display in “Paradies.”
Teresa has her first bi-racial sexual encounter in a dilapidated motel. Things don’t go so well, she wants tenderness and his is a more straightforward approach.
Not one to be defeated she repeats the encounter with a variety of partners, each time unloading an increasing amount of cash due to various relatives of the men suddenly taking ill or getting into accidents of all kinds.
In one telling scene Teresa snaps a picture of her dreadlocked beau’s dong while he’s asleep. The symbolism is so formidable it’s almost too much to bear. The black man’s been roped up but it’s all the same “hakuna matata” to him (“no problem” in Swahili). For the women, of course, this kind of degradation of themselves and other human beings is “kein problem.”
Afterwards, I wondered why Seidl decided to use the themes of slavery and imperialism. In production notes the filmmaker said, “I chose Africa because I was interested in the […] wounds from its European colonial past. Africa cast its spell over me: by its diversity and contradictions, horrors and beauty, poverty and wealth from tourism (which is itself nothing more than an updated colonialism).”
Seidl did not work with a script to produce “Paradise,” prefering that actors improvised; scenes were shot in chronological order.
“Paradise” is well worth the time—a total must-see movie.
Seidl was previously at Cannes with his film “Import Export.”