An unsettling romantic drama of moods and moments that doesn't quite gel into a compelling whole
The pursuit of happiness leads to inevitable disappointment in Paradise: Love, the first in a trilogy from Austrian director Ulrich Seidl that focuses on three women from the same family. In Love, plump, fifty-something mother Teresa (Margarete Tiesel) heads to Kenya in search of affection, sex and a renewed sense of her own desirability. Like Laurent Cantet's Vers Le Sud (Heading South), Love underlines the way in which sex tourism is a form of neo-colonialist oppression but leaves the impression that no matter how striking his aesthetic, Seidl is really not telling us anything we don't know already.
Teresa works with disabled people and endures her teenage daughter's sullen manner and lazy habits. When she leaves Austria to join the 'sugar mamas' on the beaches of Kenya, she feels a certain entitlement to her share of love and sex. In Kenya, she discovers a world where young black men will say and do almost anything to flatter and seduce older white woman as long as the price is right. Gentle charmer Munga (Peter Kazungu) makes her feel young and wanted once more but the illusion of love is quickly shattered.
Seidl remains an impressive visual stylist. His view of the saggy bodies of Teresa and her middle-aged tourists falls somewhere between the jollity of Beryl Cook and the unsparing eye of a Lucian Freud portrait. There is a striking image of a sandy coast with a firm line of demarcation between the beached white tourists on the one side and the lean black beach boys on the other. Seidl has created an unsettling film of moods and moments that doesn't quite gel into a compelling whole. The result is overlong but still offers a clear-eyed engagement with a Kenya where love is a transaction and the heart remains a lonely hunter.
Limited release from Fri 14 Jun.