The best movie trilogy to encapsulate epic struggles against evil impulses spanning generations isn't "Star Wars." Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, a divisive auteur on the world stage widely considered to produce sadomasochistic provocations, has delivered a grander three-part statement on the human condition.
Seidl's "Paradise" trilogy, which kicked off last year with the Cannes-competing "Paradise: Love" followed by "Paradise: Faith" at Venice that fall, comes to a satisfying conclusion in the surprisingly warm-hearted "Paradise: Hope." Viewed individually, the movies deliver a series of divergent investigations into the nature of desire and its emotional ramifications, but when seen as a whole Seidl's work goes to even greater lengths to represent the spectrum of ways those issues manifest in the fabric of modern society.
They're also handily organized by theme. In "Paradise: Love," the most unnerving and experimental of the three, an upper class middle-aged woman wanders Kenya with a group of likeminded friends exploring the country's sex tourism industry, sleeping with a series of hustling young men under the delusion that they actually care for her. From this bleak take on the industrialization of sex, Seidl remains in the family to explore his protagonist's sister in "Paradise: Faith," a more grounded character study in which the leading woman so furiously commits herself to the cross in the wake of a devastating divorce that she develops an attraction to Jesus (as well as resentment when she decides the romance has ended).
With the concluding "Paradise: Hope," which premiered in competition at the Berlin International Film Festival in February, Seidl focuses on the daughter of the woman from "Paradise: Love," portly teen Melanie (Melanie Lenz), as she enders the rigorous curriculum of a diet camp and falls in love with her much older doctor (Joseph Lorenz).
Those familiar with the earlier entries and Seidl's other films (including "Import/Export," which concluded with the degradation of a prostitute, and the subversive quasi-documentary "Jesus, You Know") may expect "Paradise: Hope" to bring the despair of the earlier movies to the fore; instead, he has offered something of a solution by unearthing a kernel of morality that saves his young protagonist from the lure of bad decisions. It's a curiously bittersweet work and certainly his most uplifting achievement -- although, this being Seidl, it constantly threatens to go the opposite direction.