Offers the slightest bit a hope to conclude an otherwise somber series of films.
The last installment of the Paradise trilogy is Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope, a coming-of-age film about a teenage girl who develops a crush on a doctor at a camp for overweight teens. Although this film is by far Seidl’s least daring and challenging film of the series (and his career for that matter), there is still a lot to admire about it. Considering the trilogy portrays the dark side of our basic human desire for an unattainable paradise, this film offers the slightest bit a hope to conclude an otherwise somber series of films.
13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a summer camp for overweight teens by her aunt Anna Maria (the obsessed religious lead from Paradise: Faith). Immediately upon arrival Melanie makes friends with the three girls that she shares a room with. It is not all that surprising that the first secret the newly formed group share with each other are candy bars that one of the girls snuck into the camp. As the girls spend more time together the conversations become more intimate; shifting from dishing about their parents to gossiping about sexual encounters. At the same time her mother Teresa is off seeking love as a tourist in Kenya (as seen in Paradise: Love), Melanie is searching for her own first love at the diet camp.
It becomes quite obvious that Melanie is falling for the middle-aged camp doctor (Joseph Lorenz) when he first examines her and she jumps at the opportunity to listen to his heartbeat. Each day she continues to fake symptoms in order to see him. You can practically hear her heart eagerly pounding as her crush on him continues to grow exponentially. But behind the doctor’s smile and frisky playfulness you get a sense that the feelings are more mutual than they should be.
Teenage love for someone who is older is not all that uncommon and is innocent enough, but given that this is a film by the provocative Ulrich Seidl, you come to expect that not everything in Paradise: Hope would be playful and innocent. But this is where Seidl throws his usual twist into the mix. While there are certainly hints that the doctor shares the same sexual interests as the young girl, he surprisingly never acts on them. As with his previous films, there are some uncomfortable situations that turn disturbing, however, instead of forcing the audience to actually witness such explicit scenes the filmmaker merely implies the vexing circumstances could exist.
The overall theme found throughout Paradise: Hope is discipline. The most obvious instance of this is near the beginning when the counselor makes everyone shout the word ‘discipline’ and tells them it is the only thing that will get them into shape. There are several other occurrences of discipline shown like when punishment is handed out after the girls disobey the rules of the camp. But less apparent usage of discipline is presented when the doctor’s willpower overcomes his desire to engage with Melanie. The film itself practices what it preaches by restraining what is actually shown on screen and what it implies.
Paradise: Hope does not have the same level of exploration in exploitation as the other two films in the trilogy. That makes this film feel a bit disconnected from the series, but consequently makes for Seidl’s most accessible film to date. Yet the irony here is that Seidl’s most straightforward film plot wise is also the one that is the least blunt in showing its intentions. Still, it all comes together when you put the film in the context of the overall theme of the Paradise series, which is a dark portrayal of the human desire to achieve paradise on earth.