Film review: Paradise: Hope (15)

 

Completing a trilogy begun with Love and continued in Faith, this is the gentlest and most amenable of Ulrich Seidl's dramas of female sexuality. Thirteen-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is spending the summer at an Austrian diet camp where "discipline" is the watchword for the tubby teen inmates.

In defiance of the track-suited martinet who teaches gym, Melanie plays spin-the-bottle with her friends and launches midnight raids on the kitchen, though it's her growing attraction to the camp's suave middle-aged doctor (Joseph Lorenz) that really spells trouble.

Seidl's symmetrical compositions and elliptical narrative have an odd way of building tension; we are never quite sure how far this Lolita-haunted romance is preparing to go. One creepy scene in a forest seems to be a prelude to some awful violation, and yet it arrives at an unexpected conclusion.

The heartbreak of Melanie's forlorn phone calls home is that her absent mother, Teresa, is running her own gauntlet of humiliation as a sex tourist in Kenya, bringing the trilogy full circle.

That title isn't entirely ironic, though, as Seidl offers a small, diet-size portion of hope that innocence isn't always betrayed – and that bullying isn't always the destiny of the overweight kid.

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