Filmmaker Ulrich Seidl discusses his Paradise Trilogy
'My films might be dark and they might seem negative, but what is important is change'
‘I’m interested in the loneliness of modern humanity, but my films are not nihilistic’, insists Austrian auteur Ulrich Seidl, speaking from his production company office in Vienna. ‘They might be dark and they might seem negative, but what is important is change. I show the negative aspects, because I want to get to the positive by bringing out change. The people in Paradise are all looking for something: they want to escape from their own prison of solitude and to fulfill their longings. I didn’t want to judge them in any way - they all have good and bad traits.’
Seidl’s ironically titled Paradise trilogy, co-written with his wife Veronika Franz, consists of three stand-alone films, each focussing on a different female member of an Austrian family during a summer holiday. In the first instalment Love, a middle-aged divorcee Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) heads to a Kenyan beach resort in search of romantic fulfillment, whereas in the second Faith, her devout sister Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter) travels door-to-door in suburban Vienna seeking to convert immigrants to Catholicism. And in the concluding section Hope, Teresa’s overweight 13-year-old daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) falls in love with the doctor at a diet camp in the Wechsel mountains. As ever with Seidl (whose credits include Dog Days and Import/Export), the boundaries between documentary and fiction are blurred by his casting of professional and non-professional actors and his use of authentic locations, whilst turbulent human emotions are offset against his scrupulously controlled visual compositions.
The writer-director originally intended the Paradise project to be just one film, inspired by his interest in mass tourism. However having shot 90 hours of footage, he realized in the editing room that, ‘when it came to linking the individual scenes, it wasn’t working dramatically. The scenes were too intense and so it would not have worked as a six-hour film. So we decided to make three separate films, named Love, Faith and Hope after the main Christian virtues, and also in reference to a famous play by the Austrian writer Edmund von Horvath.’
Seidl is known to be a strict taskmaster when it comes to directing his actors - Margarethe Tiesel has been quoted as saying she wished he’d used more carrot than stick during the making of Love - yet he has no qualms about his working methods. ‘Actors have to give up a lot of time when they work with me and I require them to commit themselves and to be fully engaged with their entire personality’, he maintains. ‘I have to trust them, and they have to trust me. So every now and then it’s necessary to be strict with them. Sometimes that’s the only way it works.’
Paradise:Love, Fri 26 Jul-Sun 28 Jul; Paradise: Faith, Fri 9-Sun 11 Aug; Paradise: Hope, Fri 23-Sun 25 Aug, Filmhouse, Edinburgh.