Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube) (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner09/07/2013

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 113 mins

Impressively directed and superbly acted, the second film in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy is part religious drama, part study of obsession, part allegory and part jet-black comedy – it's frequently difficult to watch, but it's also thought-provoking and powerfully moving.

What's it all about?
Directed by Ulrich Seidl, Paradise: Faith (or Paradies: Glaube, its original German title) is the second film in his Paradise trilogy, about three women in the same family who all have different experiences during a vacation. The film stars Maria Hofstatter as middle-aged hospital technician Anna Maria (briefly glimpsed in Paradise: Love as the sister of that film's central character), a devout Catholic who spends her vacation at home, dividing her time between regular meetings with her Legion of the Sacred Heart prayer group and going door-to-door in an immigrant neighbourhood, touting a two foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary along with her and asking them pray to the Mother of God. However, when Anna Maria's paraplegic Muslim husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) returns home after a long absence, she finds her devout lifestyle severely tested and the two eventually descend into what amounts to mental and physical warfare.

The Good
The performances are excellent: with her dowdy clothes and tightly-bunned hairdo, Maria Hoffstatter is utterly convincing as Anna Maria, a woman whose devotion to Jesus has taken a decidedly disturbing turn (the film opens with her half-naked and self-flagellating in front of a statue of Jesus, claiming that too many people are obsessed with sex). Nabil Saleh is equally good as her frustrated husband (it's hinted that the accident that paralysed him also triggered her religious fervour) and it's devastating to watch his behaviour descend from genuine, heartfelt pleas for love and affection to something much darker.

As with Paradise: Love, it's often difficult to tell just how far Seidl expects us to identify and sympathise with his lead character: some moments, for example, are clearly played for some very dark laughs at her expense, such as when she stumbles upon a shockingly explicit orgy in a public park. That said, Edward Lachman and Wolfgang Thaler's exceptional cinematography refuses to judge, maintaining a detached distance throughout (there are very few close-ups and the frames are often beautifully composed, like paintings), which means you approach each scene with a sort of nervous uncertainty as to how things are going to play out.

The Great
The film was developed out of unscripted scene outlines (worked on by both cast and crew), so it's not surprising that there isn't much in the way of crossover with the previous film, although her experiences of cat-sitting here explain her reaction to her niece's cat in Love. Similarly, Seidl orchestrates a number of incredibly powerful sequences, not least a series of fight scenes that recall the classic sequence in Arthur Penn's The Miracle Worker.

Worth seeing?
Paradise: Faith (Paradies: Glaube) is a compelling and often disturbing drama that's both darkly funny and deeply moving, thanks to Seidl's assured direction and a terrific central performance from Maria Hofstatter. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 17/12/2017 19:19

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