Paradise: Faith is the second instalment in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, sandwiched in between Love and Hope. However much like its predecessor, the term ‘faith’ is ironically implemented, as a loose and somewhat sardonic use of the word, as we explore the trials and tribulations of a woman battling against her loyalty to the Catholic church.
Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter) is a lonely middle aged Austrian woman, who has devoted her life to Jesus Christ, intensely and passionately abiding by the teachings of the Bible, methodically self-punishing herself to prove her dedication and commitment to her religion. Though working as a nurse, in her spare time she goes door to door to preach the Catholic religion to her neighbours – a vocation that often leads to distress and violence. As such she begins to question her own allegiance to the church, which is challenged even further with the return of her handicapped, Muslim husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh), who is not quite so keen on sharing his wife with the son of God.
Paradise: Faith is an extremely difficult watch, making for intense, and at times, unbearable viewing. Such a disquieting atmosphere is as a result of the harrowingly naturalistic approach taken, as a film that is so well acted and organically constructed, it could be mistaken for improvisation. There’s a definable beginning and end, but everything in between feels like a free for all. However, not a lot actually happens within this film, as a picture that isn’t quite as well rounded as the first offering of the trilogy, as the narrative is almost too loose. To an extent, this is almost too real, as though Seidl has forgotten that there may actually be a paying audience watching.
That said, there is a lot in here despite the lack of palpable drama, as a provocative piece of cinema. Seidl asks questions of religion and those who devote their lives to it. Avoiding sacrilege of any kind, the Austrian filmmaker offers a fair and poignant argument, inquisitive of those who live by the book and whether what they get out of such a commitment actually brings them the happiness it’s intended to provide. Anna Maria can be accused of mistreating the Bible somewhat, much like the protagonists did with love in the first film.
Though perhaps too austere a piece of filmmaking, thanks to a beautifully framed and thought-provoking story, this picture remains (just) on the right side of desolation. Seidl triggers such an array of emotions from his audience, remaining faithful to his own unique cinematic approach, while displaying an incredible knack for portraying the bleaker sides to aspects in life we otherwise deem important and joyous.
Another similarity between this and Paradise: Love – and seemingly an idea that will be carried through all three movies, is that the lead role is not a favourable person, as yet another character who has a tendency to find themselves in highly avoidable situations of their own accord, therefore making it rather difficult for the audience to find any sympathy for their plight. Anna Maria quite simply isn’t a very endearing character, and for someone who has devoted her life to God, she doesn’t care for others at all, defeating the object of her own teachings somewhat. In fact, no one in this film comes across very well at all, as Seidl highlights the darker sides to peoples demeanour, exploring what we can all be capable of. Even the cat Anna is looking after is a venomous little creature.
Paradise: Faith is not as strong as the opening picture of this portentous trio of films, as we look towards the final instalment Hope to make up for such shortcomings and end the unaptly named Paradise trilogy on a high. However if the previous two are anything to go by, then Hope isn’t going to be quite the cheery cinematic experience the title suggests it may be.