Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy has already this year horsewhipped us with Love and thumbscrewed us with Faith, so now it's time to be kneecapped by Hope. Co-written with Seidl's wife, Veronica Franz, the triptych announces its Dante interface (precisely, the tests Dante endures in the Eighth Sphere of Paradiso), but the irony of the reference shouldn't be taken too literally — Seidl's tone is fearless realism, and his focus is on a triangle of luckless, loveless contemporary women. But whereas the first two thirds are caustic and brutal, the final film is sunnier, treading the queasy edge of self-destruction but not falling in. This time we're watching Melanie (Melanie Lenz), the petulant overweight tween we spotted in the first film; while her mother ( Love's Teresa) squanders her self-respect as a sex tourist in Kenya, and her aunt ( Faith's Anna Maria) pounds Viennese doors proselytizing, Melanie does time at a softly militaristic diet camp. Amid the dictatorial exercises and absurd rituals, the inexperienced (and fatherless) Melanie hardly worries about slimming down (the bunkmates routinely steal junk food and beer at night), and is instead focused on nervously pioneering a sexual-romantic connection with the camp's gray-haired ne'er-do-well of a doctor (Joseph Lorenz). In Seidl's world, this quasi-pedophilic arc could have led to monstrousness, but instead the film veers clear of disaster, and even turns wistful. Seen from a distance, teenage peccadilloes are universal, and universally sweet. As before, Seidl's visual style -- bitter-comic three-walled tableaux -- makes the scenario's tension between desire and reality almost unbearable, but Melanie offers hope by simple virtue of her youth, her unformed romantic folly, and her guileless courage.
Ulrich SeidlMelanie Lenz, Joseph Lorenz, Verena Lehbauer, Johanna Schmid, Michael Thomas, Vivian BartschUlrich Seidl, Veronika FranzUlrich SeidlStrand Releasing