- Paradise: Love (2012) movie review: Focused on the emotional/financial relationship between a middled-aged Austrian tourist (Margarete Tiesel) and a young Kenyan man (Peter Kazungu), Ulrich Seidl’s psychological drama offers a memorable cinematic experience.
Paradise: Love movie review: Having placed his focus on Sugar Mama sex tourism, Ulrich Seidl has created a deeply affecting drama
Sugar Mama sex tourism is the subject of Paradise: Love / Paradies: Liebe. Aside from the fascinating fact that this is a real thing, director Ulrich Seidl’s remarkable film is deeply affecting in a number of ways.
Paradise: Love is at once sad and ebullient, disturbing and invigorating, beautiful and grotesque. It’s a daring investigation on the part of the filmmaker and, especially, the actors. Among the latter are several novice Kenyan actors and several veteran Austrian actresses, all of whom, quite literally, bare themselves for all to see, know, and judge. It’s all brilliantly done.
Love for a price
In Seidl’s film, Sugar Mama sex tourism involves middle-aged European women traveling to Kenya ostensibly for lovely beach-resort-style vacations in paradise.
True, Kenya offers resorts, it looks lovely, and perhaps it’s even a paradise of sorts. Yet the underlying commodity of these beachside retreats are not the trinkets young black men hawk (with alarming persistence) to the mature women lying about, with their mature bodies and pent-up frustrations, including those of the sexual variety.
In fact, what the young men are actually selling is affection, attention, intimacy, and hot sex with a young black stud who is perfectly willing to pretend to love those older women – and to pretend that they are young and beautiful – for a price.
“Selling” is perhaps a bit strong, but that’s what it all adds up to. For the most part, these transactions are couched in the languages of love and reciprocation by way of gifts and favors.
After ludicrous protestations of deep and undying love from young Kenyan men, often on first meeting; after being assured of their beauty and desirability; and after being ravished physically with yearning and passion, the women – including our heroine, Teresa (veteran Austrian stage, film, and television actress Margarete Tiesel) – find themselves vulnerable to requests of financial support.
Not unusually, these requests are not for the young men themselves, but for a loved one or a local cause. Or perhaps it’s made clear that a much-needed motor scooter would be deeply appreciated, and that they will show their appreciation with their “big personalities.”
At other times, they just ask for cash. The most heard refrains of dialogue from these charming, mercenary boy toys consist of the local credo, hakuna matata, which translates as “no worries” and that, in Paradise: Love, could also be taken as “give me money.”
Experienced but vulnerable
Teresa is not naive, but she is vulnerable.
When she and her fellow Sugar Mamas discuss their lives, fears, and past romantic frustrations while lying around the pool – laughing and complaining about their unwieldy, wilting bodies – it isn’t a naiveté about aging and its ravages that we become privy to. Instead, it’s a longing for all things that drift away with age, particularly for women, truth be told, and particularly in a global society that esteems youth and beauty, in that order, over everything, except money.
Even so, it takes Teresa a moment to catch on. On first meeting Munga (Peter Kazungu), a young man who manages to make it all sound true, Teresa’s guard comes down. Her defenses weaken. She is left naked both literally and figuratively – for she believes him.
When the true nature of their “relationship” sets in, she is devastated. Yet the desire still lingers, and the boys of paradise are plentiful.
Paradise: Love is the first movie in Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise Trilogy” that also includes Paradise: Faith and Paradise: Hope, each of which features similar characters facing similar issues regarding the human condition.
These themes have been an ongoing preoccupation for Seidl, who has primarily worked as a documentary filmmaker. A previous narrative feature, Dog Days (2000), brought us a documentary-style look at the private lives of ordinary people in suburban Vienna. Like flies on the wall, we watched as they sorted through their issues, each centered around a desire to find fulfillment, from sexual gratification to a sense of belonging.
With his “Paradise Trilogy” Ulrich Seidl’s cinematic search for love, faith, and hope continues in earnest. If Paradise: Love is any measure, it should be an interesting and fulfilling journey.
Paradise: Love / Paradies Liebe (2012)
Director: Ulrich Seidl.
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl & Veronika Franz.
Cast: Margarete Tiesel. Peter Kazungu. Inge Maux. Maria Hofstätter. Samuel Koigi.
“Paradise: Love (2012) Movie Review” endnotes
Peter Kazungu and Margarete Tiesel Paradise: Love movie image: Strand Releasing.
“Paradise: Love Movie (2012) Review: Accomplished Sex Tourism Drama” last updated in January 2022.