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Sex Tourism in Africa: PARADISE: LOVE

Paradise: Love movie Ulrich Seidl
Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Love movie

Cannes Film Festival 2012: Reviews for Ulrich Seidl's Paradies: Liebe / Paradise: Love, in which an Austrian woman (Margarethe Tiesel) and her friends travel to Kenya for a good time with the young locals, have been overwhelmingly negative. (To the best of my knowledge, this Paradise: Love has nothing to do with the song "Paradise Love" from the movie Wild Orchid.) [If you're not offended by the human body, check out this beautiful Paradise: Love nude.]

Some of the commentaries reek of moralistic outrage: the chief complaint being that Seidl's film doesn't take a "morally acceptable" stance against sex tourism — even if those involved, as seems to be the case here, are all too willing. (Though no less moralistic, Allan Hunter's review at Screen International has a different take on how Paradise: Love depicts sex tourism.)

Others have found Seidl's handling of the various goings-on either abhorrent or dull — sometimes both. And finally, some have accused Paradise: Love of being racist.

In The Irish Times, Donald Clarke writes that "the first half of Paradise: Love (might that title be ironic?) is quite superb — and properly funny — in its representation of western boors at play. The film could (we'll come to this) be accused of depicting Africans in an unflattering light. But its take on Austrian manners is considerably more savage. The women sunbathe in military rows like pink sausages waiting for the grill."

However, Clarke adds, "by the end, we feel — as we often do with Seidl — that he's simply trying to turn our stomachs. What a shame. He had a small masterpiece on his hands before he returned to picking indulgently at scabs."

In The Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney opines: "… [A]s might be expected from a director whose work has been defined by his fascination with corporeal and behavioral ugliness, the scenario is pushed to extremes both repugnant and repetitive. Superficially provocative but ultimately pointless, this is one punishing vacation."

At Écran Large, Simon Riaux writes that in Paradise: Love's "familiar, if not downright hackneyed, theme (think [Laurent] Cantet's Heading South), Seidl does not deliver the usual speech about the North against the South, the commodification of men, or the incarnation of rampant neo-liberalism. Intent on bringing to life his little theater of cruelty, the director focuses on the importance of appearances, the role of masks and pretenses in a line of sex work that must never speak its name. For here we do not prostitute oneself, the flesh never seems to be spread openly (though it eventually overflows), and everyone pretends to be playing the game of love and chance. An odious hypocrisy is shared between client and hottie, which Seidl's visual esthetic consistently succeeds in sublimating."

Allan Hunter pans Paradise: Love in Screen International, but he does have kind words for Seidl's visual esthetics. Unlike several other reviewers, Hunter finds that Paradise: Love takes the stance that "sex tourism is a form of neo-colonialist oppression" — but without bringing any new insights into the matter.

"Seidl remains an impressive visual stylist and is also able to create a film with a balanced view of how sex tourism creates a sense of exploitation on both sides of the divide albeit one born from very different forms of desperation," Hunter explains. "There is a welcome complexity to his depiction of a situation in which the white female tourists are both arrogant and foolish and the black male residents are endlessly available and yet somehow stubbornly detached from it all."

Paradise: Love picture: Cannes Film Festival.

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