Paradise: Hope

Austrian weirdmeister Ulrich Seidl's sometimes grueling but consistently compelling "Paradise" trilogy concludes on a surprisingly wistful, tender note with "Paradise: Hope," an account of a teenager experiencing first love at fat camp.

With: Melanie Lenz, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas, Vivian Bartsch, Verena Lehbauer, Johanna Schmid, Maria Hofstaetter. (German dialogue)

Austrian weirdmeister Ulrich Seidl’s sometimes grueling but consistently compelling “Paradise” trilogy concludes on a surprisingly wistful, tender note with “Paradise: Hope,” an account of a teenager experiencing first love at fat camp. This is the most accessible, commercially viable installment of the three, even allowing for the fact that it pivots on the taboo subject of desire across a 40-year age gap, handled here with discretion, sensitivity and admirable honesty. Takings have been strictly niche in the few territories where the other chapters have bowed theatrically, but the full set will find peace in the ancillary afterlife with arthouse auds.

First seen briefly at the very beginning of the trilogy’s first installment, “Paradise: Love,” Melanie (Melanie Lenz, a non-pro thesp who was 13 when the film was shot) is the daughter of “Love’s” heroine, Teresa (never seen here), and the niece of “Faith’s” Anna Maria (Maria Hofstaetter). The story opens with Anna Maria dropping off Melanie, nicknamed Melli, at a camp for overweight teens in Austria’s Wechsel Mountains.

This bleakly austere suburban facility looks more like a disused mental asylum or an open prison than the bucolic settings of Hollywood summer-camp movies like “Meatballs” or “Little Darlings.” It’s supervised by a fierce fitness instructor (Michael Thomas) and a sternly svelte nutritionist (Vivian Bartsch, a Seidl alum like Thomas), who put the kids through endless exercise paces, filmed in the director’s trademark tableau shots.

Mostly not-so-happy campers, judging by overheard phone calls home to usually divorced parents, the other kids are a ragtag bunch ranging in proportions from sexually confident, supersized 16-year-old Verena (Verena Lehbauer, a charismatic scene-stealer) to a small tween boy who barely looks overweight, let alone obese. They’re a naturally sympathetic band of misfits, much easier to root for than the protags of Seidl’s previous two films, and one of the pic’s most endearing traits is the way the writer-helmer draws out their natural, artless charm in the semi-improvised dorm-room banter as they talk about their parents, food cravings and budding sexual feelings.

Shy but fetching Melli develops a raging first crush on the camp’s never-named inhouse doctor (fiftysomething legit thesp Joseph Lorenz), a gangly, clownish type who’s flattered, embarrassed and shamefully drawn to Melli as well. Striking exactly the right note of queasy awkwardness, their flirtation escalates subtly from faux-childish games of “playing doctor” to more overt moments of intimacy that climax with barely more than hugs, yet hugs charged with a complex mixture of erotic longing and quasi-parent-child feeling. It’s not clear whether the doctor has ever done this sort of thing before, but he’s definitely, perhaps unconsciously, grooming her in textbook pedophile fashion.

However, in keeping with the naked honesty of Seidl’s work, which has never shied away from ugly or uncomfortable truths, it’s equally obvious that Melli is an eager participant, even an instigator, in this game of seduction — not that it lets the doctor off the moral hook. Arguably the film’s saddest moment is when Melli tells Verena she thinks the reason the doctor won’t have sex with her is because she’s too fat or not pretty enough, not because she’s only 13. Like her mother in “Love,” Melli is alternately filled with self-loathing about her own zaftig body and unashamed to flaunt it in short skirts for a disastrous night down at the local dance hall with Verena. Give the kid a few years and a liberal-arts degree, and she could be Austria’s answer to Lena Dunham in “Girls.”

Not unlike Dunham’s work, “Paradise: Hope” has humor and warmth, and shows more genuine affection and kindness toward its characters than Seidl usually allows. Despite the sinister undertow, the narrative doesn’t go to the darkest places it could, making for a relatively upbeat, nay hopeful ending to a potentially depressing if formally magnificent trilogy. Tech credits are just as precisely tooled as those of “Love” and “Faith,” with the welcome addition of a crisp 91-minute running time that adds a certain jauntiness to the proceedings.

Paradise: Hope


Production: An Ulrich Seidl Film production in co-production with Tat Film, Parisienne de Production, with the support of Oesterreichisches Filminstitut, Filmfonds Wien, Land Niederoesterreich, Eurimages, CNC et de l'Image Animee, in collaboration with ORF (Film/Fernseh-Abkommen), WDR/Arte, Degeto, Arte France Cinema. (International sales: the Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Seidl. Co-producers, Philippe Bober, Christine Ruppert. Directed by Ulrich Seidl. Screenplay, Seidl, Veronika Franz.

Crew: Camera (color), Wolfgang Thaler, Ed Lachman; editor, Christof Schertenleib; production designers, Renate Martin, Andreas Donhauser; costume designer, Tanja Hausner; sound (Dolby Digital), Ekkehart Baumung; sound designer, Matz Mueller; line producer, Konstantin Seitz; casting, Eva Roth. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 6, 2013. Running time: 91 MIN.

Cast: With: Melanie Lenz, Joseph Lorenz, Michael Thomas, Vivian Bartsch, Verena Lehbauer, Johanna Schmid, Maria Hofstaetter. (German dialogue)

More Scene

  • Dwayne Johnson Idris Elba

    Dwayne Johnson: Idris Elba Nixed 'Black James Bond' Joke in 'Hobbs & Shaw'

    In the “Fast & Furious Presents Hobbs & Shaw,” the movie’s villain Brixton, played by Idris Elba, spreads his arms out wide and declares “I’m black Superman.” It turns out that might not have been the original line. Dwayne Johnson tells Variety that Elba was first asked to proclaim he’s “black James Bond,” but the [...]

  • Matteo BocelliAmerican Icon Awards Gala, Inside,

    Top Music Manager Calls Out American Icon Awards for Failing to Pay Talent

    The centuries-old adage no good deed goes unpunished is a common refrain for star music manager Scott Rodger of late. Rodger, who represents Paul McCartney and Andrea Bocelli at Maverick, says his client Matteo Bocelli, the son of the opera star, was stiffed out of promised expense reimbursement by the American Icon Awards. The event, [...]

  • Mary Bailey Steve D'Angelo, Jim Belushi

    Cannabis Industry Tackles Justice Reform With 'Last Prisoner Project'

    Jim Belushi is standing two feet away in the backyard of his spacious Brentwood home, honking a harp like he’s a Blues Brother back in sweet home Chicago accompanied by noted reggae band Rebelution’s Eric Rachmany and Kyle Ahern, who provide a 12-bar shuffle. There’s the sweet smell of skunk – and success — hanging [...]

  • Dwayne Wade holds up the legend

    Dwyane Wade, Megan Rapinoe Win Big at 2019 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Sports Awards

    The 2019 Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Sports Awards was filled with incredible athletes, inspiring moments and — of course — a massive amount of slime. “I love the kids. I love the slime. I loved the games. I love seeing celebrities and athletes like become kids again. And it’s like my favorite thing,” Michael Strahan told [...]

  • Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani

    Dave Bautista Talks Representation in Hollywood and Defying Stereotypes with 'Stuber'

    Dave Bautista and Kumail Nanjiani make an unlikely duo in “Stuber,” an R-rated comedy about a police officer and his Uber driver. But the two connected over the rare chance to star in the film as actors of Asian descent (Baustia is half-Filipino and Nanjiani is Pakistani). “I’ve been stereotyped for a couple different reasons [...]

  • Skin

    How Jamie Bell Transformed Into a Neo-Nazi for 'Skin'

    Anyone who still associates British actor Jamie Bell with his breakout role as a young boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer will quickly forget all about “Billy Elliot” after seeing “Skin,” which screened at ArcLight Hollywood on Thursday night. “I was shocked,” the film’s writer-director, Guy Nattiv, told Variety of his leading man’s [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content