Michael Scott’s review published on Letterboxd:
I've made no bones about my difficulties with Ulrich Seidl's "Paradise" trilogy. Snapping back to my comments on the other films in the series, I labelled Paradise: Love an uncomfortable experience due to the fac that "the act of viewing it evokes the very voyeurism that it sets out to damn;" and I noted that in Paradise: Faith Seidl "sets out to judge society for its inequality and yet he appears to work off of that inequality for cheap entertainment, or at least entertainment cheaper than he has rightfully earned."
I said I'd reserve judgement until I had seen the complete trilogy.
Now, having seen Paradise: Hope, I can say that I was completely fair in my judgement of Seidl. I can also say with absolute conviction that Seidl's works here are more prescient than I gave them credit. Yes, Love capitalises on our voyeurism for entertainment. Yes, Faith capitalises on our superiority for the same. But now, having seen Paradise: Hope, it becomes disturbingly evident that Seidl's target isn't the sex-starved, the evangelists, or even the overweight - it is us, his audience.
Tellingly, Paradise: Hope is widely regarded as the "lightest" of the three, which it is, but only ostensibly. There is certainly an airier tone and there are jokes but, conspicuously, Seidl doesn't draw a definite line to separate the jokes from the cutting social criticism. If my audience was anything to go by, the distinction isn't as clear cut as I would have thought.
Apparently, it is okay to laugh at children for being fat.
Apparently, it is okay to laugh at rape (it's funny because the 13 year old girl is fat and drunk!)
Apparently, it is okay to laugh at two boys kissing (that's always funny, no? And it's funnier when they're fat!)
This isn't Seidl's doing. His approach to the material, if anything, is more collared than in the preceding films. His protagonist, Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is a vibrant, well adjusted young girl, who just happens to be on the biggish side. While her mother sex-tours to Kenya, she's sent off to Gymnasium Sachsenbrunn in the picturesque Austrian hills to shift a bit of excess weight. At "fat camp" she meets a group of similarly overweight, similarly body proud, teens and she lives it up, all the while crushing on the local physician, who (disturbingly) isn't adverse to the attention.
Unlike in Love and Faith, in Hope Seidl doesn't ask us to question the actions of his young protagonist. She, unlike her mother and her aunt, is not yet beaten into shape by society. That, if anything, is what her "holiday" is all about. Because of this, Melanie is presented as a more reactive figure. That is not to say that she doesn't drive the film's narrative; she is certainly not backwards in her affections for her heart-throb doctor, but, being a minor, she is far less in control. Of all the films, Hope is, dare I say it, the most hopeful because Melanie is yet to be inducted into Western society's corrupt paradigms.
Seidl gives it a bloody good go though. And in doing so, he manages to highlight just how complicit we are in carrying out the induction process. If we happily laugh at children being treated poorly because of their body shape, sexually abused and statutorily raped, what chance do they really have in our society.
I admit to being riled up by my audience. Like I say, it put Seidl's films in perspective. I may have ranted on Twitter. I may have got a response back saying suggesting people just felt "uncomfortable". No. Sorry. I got to the point that I had to turn around and look at the crowd and they were laughing laughing and not uncomfortable in the slightest.
I take away from that Seidl's damning cinematic statement. It may be generated from a localised circumstance, but it seems entirely pointed. All of the "Paradise" films have bounced heavily off the act of viewing them. Voyeurism has played a key role in the experience of each film; that is to say, the watching the film is not enough, one also has to understand that by watching the film each audience member is feeding back into its meaning. Here though, Seidl provides his endgame. He highlights just how much we delight in this voyeurism. How much we perpetuate it. How much we bring about the very films we are sat in front of.
In this way, the sum of these film is more than the individual parts.