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When a film opens with a sequence of an aging woman kneeling down in her study in front of a cross, taking off her blouse and bra and starting to whip herself while saying prayers… and when this film then carries on to present thoroughly depressing truths about ordinary people of various religious denominations… and when this film features the character of the “Travelling Mary”, a wooden statuette of Jesus’ mother who is doomed to be carried by a very annoying and deluded Christian door-to-door salesperson to astonishingly creepy everyday neighbours of hers (even though I have to give to that one neighbour that he is the one entertaining and funny bit in the whole of these three “Paradies” films… “No, my knees really do hurt, can I kneel the other way round?”) … then… welcome to the world of Ulrich Seidel!

I remember I thought (and maybe wrote) upon seeing the first part of his “Paradise” trilogy (“Liebe”, about Austrian women up for sex tourism somewhere in Africa) that what is most surprising about Seidel is his effort to like these people. I think he has given up on this now. Maybe at some point during research of Austria’s murky Christian underworld, he started weeping and told himself “My God, canst thou take them back?”

You could play the fate of the woman who leads her lonely life of home-flagellation, Mary-Carrying, crucifix-masturbation and organ-hymn-dilletantism as a cute story of warm-hearted solitude. Not here, though. For  reason that remain obscure, at one point she had taken a Muslim husband, possibly only to prove her tolerance, and she still praises the day when that husband got paralysed and impotent following an accident. This is not a nice thing to think or tell him, we believe as an audience, but then again, the wheelchair-bound husband is himself not able to take on the role of this film’s warm-hearted hero. Paralysed or not, he is a prick. Living with him (sometimes) is the other form of flagellation our heroine sometimes burdens herself with. Again, we are not so sure why she does not just kick him out, but suffers his abuse, but this is how she rolls…

This is as terrific, splendid, horrible, truthful  as cinema goes. It is also very uncomfortable to watch (even though it would be more uncomfortable if one was Austrian, I guess…). It is, strangely enough, a gripping tale, too. When I watched Brad Pitt’s tank extravaganza “Fury” a couple of days later, I checked my watch about 10 times over the course of two hours. During “Paradies: Glaube” I never even thought about how far we are in, or how long it would still go on. The way Seidl paints his portraits of the less pleasant parts of reality is as thrilling as art can be.

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