The premiere of the first part of Ulrich Seidls PARADISE trilogy was celebrated in this year’s competition of the Cannes Film Festival with great success. The film tells the story of Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel), a 50-year-old Austrian from Vienna who travels as a sex tourist to Kenya in search of love. On the beaches of Kenya they´re known as Sugar Mamas: European women to whom black beach boys offer sex to earn a living. The movie of Ulrich Seidl deals about older women and young men, the market value of sexuality, the power of skin color, Europe and Africa, and the exploited, who have no choice but to victimize other victims.
PARADISE: Love is the opener in a trilogy about three women in one family who take separate vacations: one as a sex tourist, another as a Catholic missionary (PARADISE: Faith) and the third at a diet camp for teenagers (PARADISE: Hope.) Three films, three women, three stories of longing.
“Paradies: Liebe,” Ulrich Seidl’s film about middle-aged white women who go to Kenya to exploit poverty stricken males by paying them for sex. Most women of a certain age who have “let themselves go” have long since given up on passionate sex. To be adored and hungered for isn’t on the menu. In its place, either sexless companionship or chicken-fried steak and the jackrabbit vibrator. But the truth of it, which is what “Paradies” sets out to illustrate, is that it isn’t really sex so much as love that many of these women are after. But if is to be sex for money, it might as well be as customer-friendly as possible. We’re accustomed to seeing men exploit vulnerable women in poor countries for sex, but we haven’t often seen women do it. It’s hard to imagine a woman, much less one who looks like your grandmother, needing sex so much she becomes the predator. But just because a woman’s sexuality is hidden from view after she reaches middle age doesn’t mean it goes away. The story follows Teresa (Margarete Tiesel), a woman who works with the disabled. She’s a single mother to an indifferent teen, and for the most part has nothing in her life that makes her even remotely happy. Life has become a chore. Then her friend tells her how African boy toys in Keyna are ripe for the picking, just waiting for a white “sugar mama.” It’s a mutually beneficial relationship if everyone plays by the rules — he needs her money, she needs his attention.
Teresa decides to go to a Kenyan resort, and for much of the early part of her trip we watch her parade around in her bra and underwear. The director doesn’t want us to see her as a desirable woman. He appears to seek both our disapproval and perhaps our repulsion, and he succeeds at both. Watching Teresa lumber around the room, we can’t take our eyes off of her flab, which hangs from her torso and rests on her upper thigh. We silently wonder: What man is going to want to devour that? We hate ourselves for thinking that — but we’re all thinking that.
What follows is a display of the very desperation that motivates young African males to seduce women like Teresa, playing an odd courting ritual. First comes the hand-holding, then the trip to the young man’s improverished village, then the purchase of a condom, then awkward sex in a tiny hovel. At first, Teresa resists the advances of her fake beau, but soon she meets a guy who knows exactly how to seduce her.