Release Date: August 23, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Ulrich Seidl
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
In Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise:Love, his protagonist was looking for love in all the wrong places. In the end Teresa was left broken. In the second part of Seidl’s trilogy, he shifts his focus from Teresa to Anna Maria. We briefly met Anna Maria at the beginning of Love when Teresa dropped off her daughter before she left for her sex vacation. Seidl once again explores the meaning of depth of love this time from a religious point of view. Paradise: Faith proves to be the most comical, most disturbing and easily the most controversial film in the trilogy.
In this film, when we first meet Anna Marie she is asking for the Lord’s forgiveness. On her knees and praying to a crucifix on the wall it looks fairly normal. However, looks can be deceiving as she pulls out a cat-o-nine tails, drops her top and begins to flog her own back. She is clearly a very devout practitioner of her faith. We see that Anna Marie is going on vacation but she’s not going anywhere. Instead she stays home but continues to do her work for the Lord. She preaches the word by going door-to-door. Later we meet Anna Marie’s husband Nabil who we learn was in an accident and they have since separated. However, his arrival uncovers numerous layers to this complex story about blind faith, unnatural devotion and the depths one person may go to prove their worthiness.
This is an engaging and often uncomfortable film. It is often difficult to not be judgmental of the character. Like Love, Seidl is not judgmental of his leading lady or their situation but instead he leaves that to the viewer. Unfortunately, Anna Maria is not very likable. Presumptuous, disconnected, hypocritical and the list can go on and on. You can almost say she is a stereotype of all the religious archetypes except for the fact that there are people like this in the world. Again like Love, the film is very naturalistic and documentary like. There are scenes that he captures that are unsettling and others that just make you shake your head in disbelief.
Once again he garners a stellar performance from his lead. Maria Hofstatter does a stellar job of portraying Anna Maria. You can see and feel the struggle she is going through as the film progresses. Unlike the previous film, this film’s story is not just about a woman but is about a husband and wife and the divide that faith has created between them. Nabil Saleh is strong as the husband who just happens to drop in unannounced. You immediately sympathize with him, not just because of his physical condition but because of the turmoil Anna Maria’s devotion is putting him through.
Seidl’s film brings up countless valid questions but he wisely doesn’t provide the answers. Can one be truly justified in their actions? Is it presumptuous to discount another’s faith because it’s different from their own? Should one be allowed to force their faith upon another? Does one find faith because they want something to believe in or are they running from guilt? As the film progresses questions like this will arise and it will likely challenge one’s ability to remain impartial.
Paradise: Faith is a thought-provoking and engaging film that tackles faith head on. While it can be easily seen as condemning of religion, the human drama that this married couple is going through should draw the most ire. As the middle film in the trilogy it continues the themes from the first film and like its predecessor leaves the protagonist in a precarious state. Teresa was looking for love in all the wrong places. Anna Maria’s putting all her love and devotion into her faith is driving away those who genuinely care about her. The final film is called Paradise: Hope; one can only wonder just where that one will go.