Paradise: Hope ★★★

The concluding chapter in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise saga is a significant improvement over Paradise: Faith. As with the preceding instalments in the trilogy we are introduced to a character that was only momentarily glimpsed in part one as the teenage daughter of the first film’s protagonist takes centre stage in this bittersweet coming-of-age drama in the Austrian Alps.

Paradise: Hope tells the story of 13-year-old Melanie and her first love. With her mother away in Kenya chasing young men the overweight Melanie spends her summer vacation at a strict diet camp where she falls in love with the camp doctor, a man forty years her senior. Whilst at the camp Melanie experiences a series of adolescent landmarks for the first time as her innocence is quickly lost.

Seidl’s misanthropic worldview proves an interesting counterpoint to the innocence of a coming-of-age narrative. Melanie finds kindred spirits in the other fat camp attendees as they drink, smoke and talk about boys. Yet there is a darker side to the story too as her Lolita-like relationship with the camp doctor makes for uncomfortable viewing. There is a real tension in these scenes, something Melanie herself is unaware of, as the doctor subtly manipulates his impressionable young admirer.

But even these scenes don’t quite play out as expected making the film a far more thoughtful and provocative experience. Seidl evocatively brings the camp to life with his usual austere eye as the young guests seem uninterested in the strict routines. It was also interesting seeing the parallels with the first chapter in the trilogy as both mother and daughter seek a meaningful connection in all the wrong places.

Bar the middle movie, the Paradise trilogy is further proof that filmmaking talent in Austria extends beyond just Michael Haneke.