Critics' Pick

Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube) (NR)

Drama 113 August 23, 2013
By Michael Atkinson
Coming at us in sections like baby-boomer stations of the cross, Ulrich Seidl's Dantean triptych Paradise is inarguably one of the year's big moviehouse shitstorms, and appropriately this second panel, coming after Love's bruising tropical-tourism anti-daydream, doesn't spare the rod. As you'd expect, Faith takes the Divine Comedy fixtures head-on—the first thing we see is a plump middle-aged hausfrau kneel before a crucifix in a closed room, beseech Christ for forgiveness, strip to the waist, and then furiously flog herself with a metal-tipped cat-o'-nine-tails. This is Anna Maria (veteran character actress Maria Hofstätter), a mammography technician by day and the fussy neighbor we saw cat-sitting for the vacationing protagonist of Love. But mostly Anna Maria is a catastrophic, cilice-wearing über-Catholic, pinched and paranoid and living tidily alone. All three Paradise films focus on their heroines when on vacation, and Anna Maria's holiday mostly comprises hefting a lawn madonna into Vienna’s scrubbier tenements and evangelizing door to door. As usual, Seidl goes where we hope he won't (there's even a catalyzing orgy Anna Maria finds in the park at night). His signature camera style—full-frontal distance with three walls showing, watching the ordeal till it hurts-- has a particular icon-tableau resonance under the circumstances. The filmmaker has always skirted the edge of exploitation and misogynist cruelty, but by placing their beleaguered women at center stage the Paradise films acquire enormous payloads of humanity and depth. Anna Maria begins as a regressive caricature, but she emerges in four full dimensions, a woman at odds with the world and in love with an illusion.
Ulrich Seidl Maria Hofstatter, Nabil Saleh, Natalija Baranova, Rene Rupnik, Daniel Hoesl, Dieter Masur, Trude Masur Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz Ulrich Seidl Strand Releasing