Thursday, September 12, 2013

Faith never looked this bad

Paradise Faith is the second film in a trilogy by Austrian director and provocateur Ulrich Seidl. Seidl's first film -- Paradise Love -- followed several portly, middle-aged German women on a visit to Africa where they indulged themselves in the distasteful pleasures of sex tourism. This second film in Seidl's insistently strange trilogy centers on Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter), the sister of the main character in the first film. Anna Maria, we quickly learn, is a zealous Catholic, who beats back her desires by mercilessly flagellating herself and by mortifying her flesh with a cilice. The only thing that seems to be missing from Anna Maria's arsenal of self-torment is a hair shirt. Anna Maria also talks to the Jesus. Warning: The crucifix on Anna Maria's bedroom wall is used in a masturbation scene that carries Anna Maria's love for Jesus to a bizarre carnal extreme. Anna Maria's life is disrupted when her paraplegic Egyptian husband (Nabil Saleh) returns to her after an unexplained absence. He wants to reclaim his sexual rights as a husband. Anna Maria resists, and the movie becomes a kind of domestic war story. A twisted battle between two opposing faiths, Muslim and Catholic? A look at the badly distorted life of a religious zealot who spends her vacations knocking on the doors of strangers so that she can introduce them to the Virgin Mary in the form of a statue she carries with her? Or any number of other things? I have to admit that some of the movie's bizarre carryings-on can be funny, but when all is said and done, Paradise Faith doesn't cohere into a mature work. Are we meant to think that Anna Maria -- because of her blind and absurdly literal faith -- deserves to suffer? You're guess is as good as mine.

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