“PARADISE: FAITH” (“Paradies Glaube”)
THE SECOND INSTALLMENT OF THE PARADISE TRILOGY
Anna Maria (Maria Hofstatter) is a single woman who is in her 50s and she thinks that paradise is with Jesus. Her summer vacation is used for doing missionary work—she wants Austria to be saved and brought back to virtue. Every day she goes to Vienna and walks door-to-door, carrying a statue of Mary. Her husband is an Egyptian Muslim who is confined to a wheelchair and when he comes home after having been gone for several years, Anna Maria’s life is turned upside down. She had been working at a hospital and living alone but she never felt lonely because she knew Jesus was with her. She has unconditional love for God and she feels empowered to overcome temptation by prayer and self-imposed punishments.
Anna Maria is a member of a small ultra-religious group which works to bring faith back to the Austrians. Her strong faith is challenged by the reactions of some of the people she speaks with. However, now that her husband is home, he demands her attention. When she has free time, she spends it at home and shares her thoughts with God. Occasionally she mortifies her flesh by self-flagellation, walking around the house on her knees while praying or wearing a thorny cilice around her waist. She feels she lives in a place that is comparable to the Garden of Eden until the serpent (in the form of her husband Nabil [Nabil Saleh]) enters her world. She married him before she became so devout and then he was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of an accident. He had been away for two years but now that he is back he wants to share his wife’s bed even if he is not able to fulfill his duties as a husband. Anna Maria does not want him around but she also knows that her faith demands that she take care of him. They start to argue and Anna Maria reaches a point where she questions her beliefs. When Anna Maria refuses to share her bed with her husband, tensions rise and she is convinced that God is testing her.
Director Ulrich Seidl uses his protagonists for ridicule but there is also the possibility that he wants to make his audience uncomfortable by presenting them with ideas that they usually do not want to deal with. This is a satire and I have the feeling that we are supposed to laugh at our lead character as a deranged fundamentalist. Her husband, on the other hand, comes across as rational and reasonable with his Muslim faith. I do not believe that Seidl favors one religion over another—what he does is show us that there is an addiction when people seek happiness and fulfillment by proving to others where happiness comes from. Anna Maria is overzealous in her fanaticism and she behaves as if she is addicted so that when she strays, we sense her feelings of guilt.
“Paradise: Faith” is the second installment in Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy and comes 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 which we see as we explore the trials and tribulations of a woman battling against her loyalty to the Catholic church. This is not an easy film to watch due to its intensity. While the film has a distinct beginning and a distinct end, what comes in between them is almost a free-for-all.