Paradise: Love is the first in an extraordinary trilogy of films by the Austrian-born writer and director Ulrich Seidl. They deal with three women in one family and their separate vacations. Each in her own way is seeking a way out of the trap of loneliness, guilt, shame, and separation. All three are yearning for what they see as their rightful share of happiness. Their quests are captured in the creative cinematography of Ed Lachman who is known for his work with directors Todd Haynes and Steven Soderbergh, two American explorers of the cartography of the soul.
Desire is a great force that takes us beyond ourselves. It hides in our secret yearning for connection and animates our erotic feelings, which in the constricted world of everyday life are often stifled and repressed. Fifty-year-old Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) is a lonely divorcee who lives in Austria with her sloppy and uncommunicative daughter. As an escape from her dreary and repetitive world, this hausfrau has arranged a trip for her birthday at a resort by the ocean in Kenya. She leaves her daughter with her sister and heads off for what she hopes will be a satisfying rest and lively adventure.
Teresa is pleased by the fine room she gets at the resort and loves the beach. But she is put off by the swarm of young Kenyan "Beach Boys" who want her to buy souvenirs, boat excursions, and their services as sexual partners. Inge (Teresas Freundin), a fellow middle-aged Austrian, meets her for drinks at the bar and explains the delights of having sex with a black man and savoring the taste of his skin. Theresa has a negative view of her overweight body but decides to go to bed with Gabriel (Gabriel Nguma Mwarua), a smooth-talking Kenyan. But in the middle of their awkward fumbling, she pulls away realizing that she is not ready for this quick and raw sexual union.
Theresa is much more attracted to the slow romancing of Munga (Peter Kazungu) who is an expert at dealing with the insecurities of European "Sugar Mommas" who are embarrassed about their sagging breasts and large stomachs. She talks herself into believeing he really cares for her, but his true colors come to the surface when he asks her for money to give to his sister and his ailing father. He's only in it for the money.
Plunging into a deep depression, Therese vents her anger and then tries to exploit a mild-mannered Kenyan bartender, but that too ends badly. Unable on her birthday to reach her daughter, she feels more isolated and worthless than ever. Inge and a few adventurous other women arrive to give Therese her gift: an African male dancer and stripper to perform for them. It is not what this Austrian romantic had in mind.
Paradise: Love has quite a different outcome than Shirley Valentine in which another middle-aged woman reaches out for love while on vacation in Greece. Theresa is not as fortunate as the middle-aged and older women in Enchanted April whose escape from England to an Italian villa offers them the physical, mental, and spiritual renewal they are seeking. Theresa's unsatisfying encounters with sex tourism in Kenya have much more in common with the character played by Charlotte Rampling in Heading South which is set in a resort in Haiti. Both of these middle-age women have their deepest desires trumped by the powerful forces of racism, money, and class. We come away from Paradise: Love with a keen sense that a huge reservoir of disappointed dreams and fantasies lies behind the doors of pleasure palace resorts around the world.
Special features on the DVD include a photo gallery and Paradise trilogy trailers.