(This review is dedicated to film patron Mr Robert Pattenden.)
Many will cringe at Ulrich Seidl’s unblinking approach on modern-day sex tourism. The Austrian provocateur’s camera never shies away from the seediest of scenes, and the potentially exploitative sequences that screams of racial prejudice and sexual demoralisation. A group of drunken, middle-aged, flabby and debauched white women coaxing an erection from a young Kenyan male prostitute in a late-night hotel room party might sound like a sequence that could catalyse a full-blown, acrimonious debate, but in the hands of Seidl becomes audacious and incisive, skirting any form of moralising to show with a keen sense of truth, exploring what happens when old, sad, sexually unfulfilled white women flies down to Kenya to feast on third-world, virile male escorts that flock the country.
Ironically titled Paradise: Love, this nirvana is utterly devoid of that emotion. It charts the misadventures of a plumpy Austrian hausfrau who leaves an equally plumpy daughter to a dieting regime and goes to Kenya to drink cocktails, cavort around beaches, get some tan and hook up with some male prostitutes to give her the loving that she needs. Not your typical holiday. In itself, it’s a personal odyssey of Teresa (a brave, show-stopping performance by one Margarete Tiesel), who gets to witness first-hand the game of exploitation ruthlessly tossed between the tourists and the pawns of desire. But thanks to Seidl’s intelligent direction, this game is never one-sided – at first, we get to see these women foraging on the palpably less-cultured male subjects, but Seidl turns the tables around as the escorts themselves become predators on the emotionally needy and romantically deprived women from the West. Turns out, both sides have prices to pay.
Subversive, sardonic and ultimately penetrating look into the sex tourism industry, cast with a cynical eye from a director of blunt yet bold talent. Chances are, you won’t have much fun watching Paradise: Love – it’s not a holiday film but rather a caustic commentary on racial prejudice and human ageing that will leave a dark, bitter aftertaste.