Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s epic “Paradise” trilogy mainly focuses on women who are seekers. In the first part entitled “Love,” a 50-year-old Austrian woman (Margarete Tiesel) goes on vacation to a Kenyan resort where she seeks love, only to find that it comes with a price. The second part entitled “Faith,” her sister Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter) is a devoted and sometimes fanatical Catholic who is seeking the love of Jesus Christ even if it means whipping herself several times in the name of Jesus.
When Anna decides to take a vacation from work, her idea of a vacation is to rid herself of every dirt and speck in her house and going door-to-door to try to convert people to Catholicism while cradling a statue of the Virgin Mary under her arms. She is utterly alone unless she is hosting a prayer group with her fellow Catholics as they prey and sing hymns. One day, her paralyzed Muslim husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh) has returned home after a prolonged absence. Their estranged relationship and their different views of religion slowly cause them to declare an all-out war on each other.
“Paradise: Faith” is a task to watch as the movie starts off slow and as soon as Nabil shows up, the emotions are at an all-time high and psychological scars are inflicted on Anna and Nabil. Even though Hofstätter and Saleh deliver raw and realistic performances and you start to empathize with their characters as the movie progresses, Seidl takes you the characters in a different direction that makes it difficult to feel sympathy for these characters in moments that feel like a twisted version of “The War of the Roses.”
The voyeuristic shots and brutal images (which include a disturbing use of a crucifix) make it feel like Seidl is taking a couple of pages from the playbook of fellow Austrian director Michael Haneke. However, Seidl shows how his protagonists’ obsession leads them to a dark path as their obsession causes them self-destruct.
Though there is enough religious overtones to make seem like overkill, “Paradise: Faith” is a tense and uncomfortable character study of a woman that goes through a transformation that renders her emotional and broken at the end.
“Paradise: Faith” opens tomorrow at the Miami Beach Cinematheque. Click here for showtimes.