Wednesday, Oct. 2 marked the final Milwaukee Film Festival (http://mkefilm.org)screening of Fiction Festival Favorite, "Paradise: Hope". Though not a part of the Passport program, this particular Fiction Film Festival Favorite comes from German director/producer/writer Ulrich Seidl. Fox Bay Cinema-Grill screened the final installment of Seidl's "Paradise" trilogy from 9:45-11:20 p.m.
"Paradise: Hope" is a coming-of-age tale about 13-year-old Melanie who experiences joy, desire, and heartbreak during her summer away at fat camp. Melanie and her three new friends are all sent begrudgingly to camp, where they must watch diet videos, exercise at the command of a sadistic coach, and report to a gray-haired doctor for any ailments (real or imaginary).
I don't care how tired you are. Into my torture chamber.
There is most certainly a target demographic for this film, as it centers around teenage girls at a trying time in their lives. The camp aspect of the film allows for interspersed segments of their exercise routines and ridiculous weight loss tactics, which make the film more interesting and watchable for those not intrigued by the trials of pubescent teenagers.
However, the film isn't all about weight loss or the campers' self-consciousness due to their weight. In fact, the campers show no sense of self-consciousness or shame in their weight whatsoever, and often wear skimpy clothes or just underwear in their rooms. While this makes the viewer all the more aware that they young men and women are overweight and in their current predicament because of it, the characters seem oblivious and focus on the average teenage concerns such as romance, family, and gossip. In this way, weight has relatively little do with the main issues of the film, which could just have easily been applied to average or underweight teenagers. Seidl's use of interspersed camp activities and dorm room scenes works well in creating Melanie's identity, not just as a fat kid, but as a person.
"Paradise: Hope" constantly brings up the topic of discipline, whether overtly or implied through subtler clues. Melanie's relationship with both her drill sergeant-type coach and her charmingly friendly, (much) older doctor circle around the concept of discipline. Whether the coach demands discipline to achieve weight loss or Melanie disregards any sense of discipline when she finds herself falling for the doctor, it is a definite factor in the film and its portrayal of growing up. But even adults struggle with discipline, as the viewer comes to learn through watching Melanie's relationship with the doctor. The crushes and daydreams of a 13-year-old girl aren't overlooked in this way, as we are reminded that they are genuine emotions capable of turning up in anyone.
Discipline is the cornerstone of success.
This element of discipline, among with others, is important to remember throughout the film. While "Paradise: Hope" has elements of comedy and may seem like a film without substance, Seidl leaves some room for the viewer to interpret and judge the characters on their own. For those who have no interest in the topic matter or stringing common themes throughout the film, it might feel a bit paced with an abrupt, open ending. However, the film tackles a range of serious (and fun) aspects of a teenager growing up, and Seidl does a great job of addressing them with respect in what can be an easily-mocked settling.
If you're happy and you know it clap your fat!