Home Video Hovel: Paradise: Hope, by Aaron Pinkston
The third of Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise trilogy,” Paradise: Hope involves a group of youngsters at a rural diet camp. Our main focus is Melanie, daughter of Paradise: Love’s Teresa, a shy 13-year-old who is grappling with her self-confidence and sexuality, as young girls typically do. Sparked by conversations with her more sexually mature roommate, Mellie builds an infatuation with the camp’s doctor, and their curious relationship strays from sweet puppy love to darker territory.
With Paradise: Hope, Seidl keeps the clinical approach of his previous films, stilly and silently watching the camp members as they perform their daily exercises, eat their nutritious meals, and getting drunk after-hours, all with the same metered tone. Overall, though, Hope is less extreme than the harsh worlds of Love and Faith. Where Love has plenty light and hopeful moments, they are consistently undercut by cruel intentions that don’t fully come around in Hope. Being a film involving teenagers, the characters are more simplistic and genuine when talking about love and life. They don’t have the deeper understanding of these topics and so the film’s themes also don’t penetrate as deeply. Mellie’s infatuation with an older authority figure is slightly weird only because of our framed experience — otherwise, there are many sweet and cute moments that they share completely innocently. She doesn’t look at him with lust, but the shy hopefulness of any 13-year-old. Their relationship can be as awkward as anything in this series, but Hope is undoubtedly softened, for better and for worse.
To his credit, Seidl seems to deliberately use the viewer’s expectations of a Seidl film throughout Paradise: Hope. There are multiple moments that seem to be building to a creepy, disturbing, or horrific place before becoming something else. Perhaps things are happening after the scene cuts, but that doesn’t seem like this filmmaker’s style.
Unfortunately, there isn’t as much new for Paradise: Hope to say in relation to its trilogy mates. While it may brush up with darker elements, it really isn’t much more than your typical teenage coming-of-age story. Because of the trilogy, it’s hard to think of Paradise: Hope as simple or neutered, even when it is decidedly less extreme, but that’s where it sits. The diet camp setting could provide more interesting results, but Seidl doesn’t maximize on it. Being from Austria, I suppose there is something to read into with this strict society in relation to the country’s history of Nazism, but you have to look pretty hard to get much.
Part of my frustration with Paradise: Hope directly lies in the film’s central relationship, especially from the doctor’s perspective. It was difficult to grasp or understand his involvement or intentions with Mellie, as they changed from scene to scene. Is he a total creep or completely oblivious of Mellie’s desires or just a genial guy who gets a young girl’s hopes up? Depending on where you are in the film, the answer is different and it’s not a consistent building in character. The inability to get into the head of the doctor contributes to an ending that falls flat, even when the character’s emotions are at their highest.
I can see why Paradise: Hope has been the most well-received of Ulrich Seidl’s gripping trilogy, as it sheds the oppressive tone with a simpler and more sensitive one. Though the filmmaking is still sharp and the change in storytelling makes for an easier watch, I can’t help but feel that Hope is much less memorable. Overall, if you’re deciding to keep score, Paradise: Love feels the most complete and heartbreaking, while Hope is more agreeable than Faith, though perhaps less essential.