Director: Ulrich Seidl
Writer: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Cast: Melanie Lenz, Verena Lehbauer, Joseph Lorenz, Viviane Bartsch, Michael Thomas, Maria Hofstätter
Part of: The Paradise Trilogy (first movie: Paradise: Love, second: Paradise: Faith)
While Melanie’s mother is on holiday in Kenya, 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is at a diet camp. Between the sadistic sport sessions and the weirdly military set-up of the entire thing, Melanie finds new friends, earnest teenager sex-talk, alcohol and cigarettes. But she also falls in love with the camp doctor (Joseph Lorenz), 40 years her senior, who shows her some kindness.
Paradies: Hoffnung is probably the most positive of the Paradise movies. That is not to say that it’s a lighthearted comedy, but, as the title promises, at least there’s some hope that not everything necessarily has to be completely awful. That is not much but it is nice that Seidl finishes his trilogy on that note.
Melanie’s world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. But there still are those warm, shiny parts. There are the friendships, and the trepidations of first love, the nightly adventures the girls have in the camp and the general feeling that things could be good, if the world was just a little different.
The movie does have its lows – the sadistic trainer (Michael Thomas), for example. And the way the doctor doesn’t completely reject Melanie’s advances, but is actually tempted, culminating in a scene in the woods where he sniffs her unconscious body. In the scene before that, Melanie is almost raped in a club (having passed out from drinking) and her new best friend leaves her there.
But maybe even more than those scenes, the general inhuman structure of the camp made me cringe, especially because it was shown so nonchalantly. The scenes are told with a sense of humor, but with a very dark one. And in the end, what you get is ritual humiliation and fat shaming. [Plus, I wanted to strangle the woman who sat right behind me and who found every fat belly and every humiliated teenager apparently absolutely hilarious and laughed the entire time.]
The cast was brilliant. With the teenagers you didn’t get the feeling that they were acting at all. Maybe they weren’t, Seidl usually lets his actors improvise a lot. The scenes felt entirely real in any case. And in the end, you’re with Melanie all the way. And your heart gets broken along with hers, even if you know that it’s probably the best thing that could have happened.
Summarising: Fantastic, just like the rest of the trilogy.