Some people I know say they cannot watch the British or American TV series The Office because it makes them feel too awkward. You find yourself laughing out of discomfort. Paradise: Hope (2013) is a film that provides a different type of discomfort that if you do chuckle, you’ll say to yourself: ‘Dammit. I’m a horrible person.’ Yet, you still find yourself chuckling.
This being the third installment of Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy was the first and (so far) only installment I’ve witnessed. Therefore, I may take a different approach to this film then most reviewers that have seen all three films and in their chronological order.
The film tells the story of an overweight 13-year-old, Melanie Lenz (playing herself), as she attends a fat camp with a handful of other plump misfits. A nutritionist and a gym teacher sternly run the camp. The kid’s daily routines surround unusual fitness activities such as running in a circle, hanging from bars, and falling over (yes, falling over). The kids are also shown how to cherish their food and are timed when eating a piece of chocolate in order to savor what they are eating. Lastly, they’re shamed by having to sing, “if you’re happy and you know it, clap your fat”!
If this all sounds a bit odd, please bear with me.
On the second day of camp Melanie finds out she has a major crush of the camp’s doctor. As it turns out, the doctor also has a crush on Melanie. For the remainder of the camp Melanie fakes a reason to see the doctor every day. The doctor, who has no reservations about day-drinking scotch and smoking alone in his office, knows he is in the position of power over Melanie and talks to her in a disturbingly silky manner. However, he knows there are rules and this relationship would not be acceptable. But that doesn’t stop him from making their interactions excruciatingly difficult and uncomfortable to watch. There is a scene towards the conclusion of the film between the doctor and Melanie that is so excruciatingly weird, but is set against such a beautiful backdrop that it is hard to put into words how these vast contrasts worked so well together.
Although the film focuses on Melanie and her unusual relationship with the doctor, we are really learning about her pubescent outlook on what she wants from her life. She wants to be skinnier because she believes that’ll make her more popular. She feels that all of her dreams with life, love, and futures are attached to the size of her waste. Her intentions always appear to be nothing more than genuine and her longing for acceptance is always apparent.
Overall, Seidl’s movie Hope is an intimate film that transcends the audience into the normal conversations of a 13-year-old girl and her friends. There was no script for the actors, most of the actors were non-professionals, and all scenes were shot in chronological order. Therefore, the improvised conversations or scenes caused the film to go where the actors made it go and all interactions appear unadulterated and real.
100 mins. In German.