PARADISE: FAITH (2012)
Running Time: 115 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Ulrich Seidl
Language: German & Arabic w/English subtitles
Distributor: Strand Releasing
Cast: Maria Hofstatter, Nabil Saleh, Natalya Baranova, Rene Rupnick, Daniel Hoesl, Dieter Masur, Trude Masur
There is an expression “The world would be a better place if people would learn to just sit quietly in a room.” As Ulrich Seidl’s movie PARADISE: FAITH, the second in the director’s trilogy, begins, we think that the principal character, Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter), is such an ideal person. After all, when she leaves her job as a lab technician, she tells her co-worker that she is going on vacation, and that she is “staying home.” Too bad this is not literally true, as Anna Maria is an intensely pious Catholic who does missionary work in her own Austrian city—something like the way Jehovah’s Witnesses reach out to others by talking to strangers in the street and knocking on doors. In this film, the director and his regular co-writer Veronika Franz, are not taking aim at religion but they appear to have little use for those who go to extremes in trying to force their beliefs on others.
Anna Maria, whom we last saw in PARADISE: LOVE, as the sister of a woman who travels to Kenya on a sex tour, is about fifty years old. Her obsessive-compulsive behavior is seen as she begins her vacation by polishing every inch of her roomy Austrian flat as though the wooden stairs were no different from her best silverware. As she makes her missionary rounds as a member of the Legion of the Scared Heart with a small statue of the Virgin Mary which she calls the Holy Mother, she does her best to convert others to her religion, even arguing with an elderly couple who are “living in sin” and she debates, and physically fights, a drunken emigre from the Soviet Union.
When she is alone at home, she prays to a statue of Jesus, whipping herself like the Christians way back out of some masochistic guilt she may feel. But the real conflict occurs when her husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) returns from two years in Egypt in a wheelchair demanding that they sleep together notwithstanding his inability to “satisfy” his wife. She will not hear of this and in an escalation of domestic violence trashes his wheelchair and locks him away. In a climactic scene (so to speak), one full of dark humor, she appears to come to a realization that her solid beliefs are more permeable than she thought.
The most controversial scene, one which might make religious Catholics in the audience wince, she masturbates with the crucifix, though the scene is well covered by her blanket. Maria Hofstatter, emerging from her brief role in the first of the Seidl trilogy, comes into her own, well cast, as is the non-professional Nabil Saleh as the husband. One wonders, though, how someone associated with this reactionary society that is determined to “make Austria Catholic,” would have married a Muslim.
If this film does not spare the potential feelings of a pious audience, PARADISE: FAITH is not for any but an arty American following, given the director’s penchant for long, static takes and improvised dialogue. However, you can’t say that Seidl is anything but respectful to moviegoers in the demands he makes on us in this intriguing, but (by American standards), almost painfully slow.
If you like this recommendations: