Paradise: Hope is the third and final film in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, after Paradise: Love and Paradise: Faith. This time he sets his sights on the phenomenon of fat camps, with 13-year old Melanie (Melanie Lenz), the daughter of Teresa from Paradise: Love, being sent to fat camp while her mother is away in Kenya (she also gets a lift to the fat camp from Anna Maria, the protagonist from Paradise: Faith and Teresa’s friend).
Love was bleak and sad while PFaith was a borderline freakshow (then again you could say most of Seidl’s films to date, if not all of them, are freakshows of sorts) but this time Seidl has toned things down a bit (maybe because his protagonist this time is a child). Hope may be his warmest and least “freaky” film to date (though it’s still not very pleasant). As for its quality, it falls somewhere between the other two. It’s not as moving or thought-provoking as Love but also less freaky and unpleasant than the somewhat messy Hope.
As in the other two parts there’s not much of a plot here. Hope is mostly just a portrait of a fat camp, through the experiences of one particular girl. The two things that do distinguish this film are, firstly, the friendship Melanie strikes with another, slightly older, girl at the camp who tries to teach her a thing or two about life, and secondly a crush she develops on the camp doctor, who’s three times her age.
This film works best as a portrait of adolescence with all the awkwardness, emotional angst and joy that follows. Melanie is reaching that in-between area of not quite being a kid, and discovering things like sex and alcohol, while still not being an adult and thus not having the maturity to have a full grasp of these things. Tenderness and embarrassment are side by side here and Seidl manages to show a seemingly very realistic exhibition of teenagers being teenagers. He gets great performances out of the kids, especially from Melanie, and it sometimes feels like Seidl simply snuck a camera into a real fat camp and edited the results into a film (and considering Seidl’s roots in documentary and his methods of using amateurs that’s probably not far from how this film was made).
But this isn’t just a movie about adolescence. Seidl’s films have always been black comedies of sorts and he does a pretty good job here of exposing the ridiculousness of fat camps. It might be an easy target but then again it hasn’t been the subject of many films so far and then mostly just working as an excuse to tell a lot of fat jokes. One of the girls talks about having been to fat camp several times before, and she’s still pretty overweight so it’s worth asking if it’s doing any good, and it also turns out most of the kids in the camp come from broken homes (i.e. divorced parents) so it seems like their parents are mostly just sending them away to get rid of them for a little while (so they can go as sex tourists to Kenya, for example).
Still, the lack of a serious plot is a bit of a problem here as it results in a somewhat shapeless film that sometimes lacks a clear sense of direction. As with the first two films it feels a little like this story would have worked better as part of one film (like the original plan was) than as a separate film and even at 90 minutes it feels a tad stretched. Still, it’s a reasonably solid effort overall.
Final Verdict: Ulrich Seidl’s final chapter in the Paradise trilogy, Hope, is possibly his warmest film yet, though still rather bleak. It manages to be tender portrait of adolescence as well as a nice little social satire. But it’s also rather shapeless and might have worked better as part of one bigger story rather than a film on it’s own. But overall, it’s still worth seeking out.