Synopsis: Teresa, a 50-year-old woman, travels to the beaches of Kenya as a sex tourist or “Sugar Mama”. There, she moves from one Beach Boy to the next, buying their love only to be disappointed and quickly learning that there, love is strictly a business. With his very unique brand of realism, socio-political critique and warped humor, Mr. Seidl deals with the market value of sexuality, older women and young men, the power of skin color, Europe and Africa, and the exploited, who have no choice but to exploit others.
Paradies: Liebe 7.75
eyelights: the incredible photography. its fact vs fiction quality.
eyesores: its lack of clear plot.
“In Africa, love is forever.”
Full disclosure: I watched 2012’s ‘Paradies: Liebe’ thinking that it was a documentary about a woman partaking in sex tourism. I was curious to hear about it from a female perspective, in the same way that I’d love to hear a woman’s take on hiring escorts; we frequently hear about men indulging in such pleasures, but not women.
So who are these women, and what motivates them?
Unfortunately, Ulrich Seidl’s motion picture is pure fiction, much as were the two other parts of his ‘Paradies’ trilogy, ‘Paradies: Glaube’ and ‘Paradies: Hoffnung’. So it’s likely not going to provide that much insight, though it may very well show one woman’s potential perspective – if he properly did his research first.
‘Paradies: Liebe’ tells the story of Teresa, a lonely single mom who decides to go to a Kenyan resort on holidays. There, she meets a woman who tells her all about her sexy adventures with the young men there: Given the value of their money there, for small amounts of cash and gifts they can buy men’s gratitude.
At first reticent, and partaking in the resorts pathetic activities, Teresa is eventually seduced by the sight of all these lean, muscular young men waiting on the beach for the attention of the female tourists. She then falls into a vicious cycle of crushing on young men who manipulate her to get more money.
It’s actually kind of sad to watch. Teresa is all too willing to lose herself in her fantasy of being adored and loved as she is, despite her age and girth, but she is consistently wakened from this daydream by the men’s demands. In those moments she realizes that it’s merely a transaction, that they are performing.
No matter how much they claim otherwise.
It was also sad to see the men reduced to this due to poverty. There are worse gigs, naturally, but it’s unfortunate that this is their only way out. Most of them have families, which they conceal to sustain their image as freewheeling lovers, and the only way to provide for them is through this “boyfriend experience”.
And it goes beyond the sexual exploitation: One also gets the impression that it’s a strange extension of slavery, with the men, even the staff, being expected to perform for the guests’ pleasure. There’s a unpalatable condescension and even racism emanating from the women even as they relish the locals’ taste and smell.
Still, it remains an interesting dissection of the balance of power between “have nots”: those without money and those without love. Unfortunately, there’s very little plot to speak of; in many ways it feels like a documentary – ‘Paradies: Lieben’ is more observational than a traditional film, even if it is fictional.
Interestingly, this is further cemented by Seidl’s directorial choices, like the fact that there are no close-ups – all shots are medium or long, with little cutting. It creates a certain amount of distance, a lack of intimacy. And, unlike most films, there is no quick cutting between as characters speak to one another.
Having said this, I quite liked that it blurred the lines between fact and fiction the way that it did. This made the story feel real, even though the composition of each frame was far too calculated for it to be true to life. Everything was clearly staged to the Nth degree: non-actors would never pose this way.
Every shot seemed framed with purpose, to make a statement, and you could probably make a postcard of most shots. The perfect example of this is how well-articulated the boundary between the tourists and the locals is, with a mere rope and 10 feet separating them – a point made from various angles throughout the film.
Ultimately, although I was disappointed that ‘Paradies: Lieben’ wasn’t a documentary, it was nonetheless a credible glimpse at the sex tourism industry and the motivations of those involved. Granted, Teresa’s adventure is a lonely one, maybe even a sad one, but it’s nonetheless captivating and memorable.
Now I’m very curious to see the other two parts of the ‘Paradies’ trilogy.
Date of viewing: May 30, 2016