Even though Paradise: Faith contains an underlying bit of pitch-black humor, it is every bit as disturbing and thought-provoking as Seidl’s previous work.
Almost immediately after I saw Paradise: Love at the Chicago International Film Festival last year I knew it would land towards the top of my favorite films of the year. Paradise: Love is an exploitation film where neither paradise nor love is actually found, only sought after. At that time it was my first Ulrich Seidl film and I had no idea that it was just the first part of the Paradise trilogy. Needless to say, I was impatiently waiting for the next two films as soon as soon as I found out about the series.
Paradise: Faith, the second installment of the Paradise trilogy, starts off with Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter) entering a room to pray in front of the cross on the wall for Jesus to forgive her for being unchaste. She proclaims that so many people are obsessed with sex. This is interesting and important because Anna is sisters with Teresa, the love-seeking escapist who essentially turns into an obsessive sex tourist in Paradise: Love.
Instead of traveling to a foreign country while on vacation, as her sister did, Anna stays close to home for her to practice her own missionary style of work by spreading the word of Catholicism to others. As you might expect, going door-to-door asking people to let her in with a small statue of the Virgin Mary in her arms, yields mixed results. But she does not let the unsuccessful attempts bring her down because Anna is completely devoted to help make Austria Catholic again.
The film takes a drastic turn when her husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) shows up unannounced at her home after a two-year hiatus. Crippled from an accident that led Anna to start believing again, Nabil returns to a much different wife who dedicates most of her time to her religious practices rather than taking care of him. Her controlling beliefs upset him to the point where he begins to tear down the plethora of Jesus photos that hang in just about every room of the house. Anna considers this whole situation to be a test of faith from Jesus, but finds it increasingly difficult to forgive those around her as she often preaches onto others.
Trademarks of Seidl’s documentary style of observing dark humanistic subjects are found in Paradise: Faith, just as one would come to expect from the director. And one of my favorite qualities about the director is his minimalistic and straight-forward approach he takes with his films. The camera remains mostly free of movement and often the focal point is in the dead center of the frame. There is no music to be heard, except when the characters themselves sing, and the dialog does not contain much structure. All of these techniques help the audience to remain distraction free, focusing on exactly what Seidl wants you to – a twisted thing to do because his films are often not easy to watch.
Even though Paradise: Faith contains an underlying bit of pitch-black humor, it is every bit as disturbing and thought-provoking as Seidl’s previous work. Here faith is explored in an overbearing and full of irony fashion – prominently put on display when the religious fundamentalist masturbates with a crucifix.
One letdown of Paradise: Faith is that the main character has no sympathetic qualities for the viewer to care about, which means the unapologetic story must carry the entire film. And for the most part it does. That is until the end where it begins to run out of steam and scenes go on a bit longer than they need to. The film is more comical than the first installment, but not as remarkable.