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PARADISE: FAITH

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by Ulrich Seidl

grade: 8

Paradise: Faith shows us not only religious fanaticism in one of its most extreme forms. No. In Paradise: Faith, in fact, Ulrich Seidl shows us religion lived in a maniacal way that almost seems to forget the value of human beings themselves. Special Jury Prize at the 2012 Venice Film Festival.

Amour fou

What is Paradise? How does each of us try to create our own personal paradise? And, above all, how difficult is it to do this while first respecting ourselves and the people we live with? Director Ulrich Seidl has dedicated an entire trilogy to this important topic, which began in 2012 with Paradise: Love, continued the same year with Paradise: Faith – presented in competition at the 69th Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize – and ended in 2013 with Paradise: Hope.

So, if in Paradise: Love we saw an extraordinary Margarethe Tiesel desperately searching for love in a tourist village far, far away from home, in Paradise: Faith we find Anna Maria (played by Maria Hofstätter), sister of the protagonist of the previous film, who, finally on holiday, decides to spend her days off going around the houses and taking a statue of the Madonna with her, in order to make her city (and ideally the whole of Austria) a country with a strong Catholic stamp. Things, however, become complicated when her husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) – an Egyptian Muslim who, following an accident, is forced to live in a wheelchair – returns home after several years and cannot understand why his wife has become so obsessed with religion.

Paradise: Faith, therefore, shows us not only religious fanaticism in one of its most extreme forms. No. In Paradise: Faith, in fact, Ulrich Seidl shows us first and foremost religion lived in an almost maniacal way (the scene in which we see the protagonist simulate sexual intercourse with a crucifix is particularly striking), which almost seems to forget the value of human beings themselves. In this respect, the relationship between Anna Maria and Nabil is no longer what a husband-wife relationship should be. On the contrary, the woman seems decidedly annoyed by the man’s presence in the house, as an element of disturbance in the intimacy she has built with Jesus.

Ulrich Seidl, for his part, shows us all this through perfectly symmetrical and static shots (with the exception of the scene at the apartment of a Russian girl, in which, in showing us the fight between her and Anna Maria, there is copious use of shoulder camera), through shabby environments in which disturbing crucifixes hanging on the wall play the leading role, through moments of physical and psychological violence, as when Anna Maria whips herself in front of the crucifix in her room, as when Nabil tries in vain to have sexual intercourse with his wife, or as when the woman, in revenge, moves her husband’s wheelchair to the basement, forcing him to crawl around the house screaming and calling for help.

In Paradise: Faith, then, once again Ulrich Seidl was not afraid to dare. And, as usual in his works, he has also carried out a profound and never banal analysis of Austrian (and contemporary) society, which is still too conservative and often shamefully hypocritical. Merciless and painful scenes, but also grotesque and hilarious moments, therefore, make up an extremely sophisticated work, studied down to the smallest detail. Paradise: Faith definitely hit the mark. And the Venice Film Festival also recognised its value.

Original title: Paradies: Glaube
Directed by: Ulrich Seidl
Country/year: Austria, Germany, France / 2012
Running time: 115’
Genre: drama, satirical
Cast: Maria Hofstätter, Nabil Saleh, René Rupnik, Natalya Baranova, Martina Spitzer, Heinrich Herki, Daniel Hoesl, Barbara Lehner, Elfriede Wunsch, Roswitha Ziener, Trude Masur, Dieter Masur, Michaela Hurdes-Galli
Screenplay: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz
Cinematography: Edward Lachman, Wolfgang Thaler
Produced by: Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion, Tatfilm, Coproduction Office

Info: the page of Paradise: Faith on iMDb; the page of Paradise: Faith on the website of the Ulrich Seidl Filmproduktion; the page of Paradise: Faith on the website of the Austrian Film Commission