With Paradise: Faith in cinemas, the Austrian writer/director reveals the meaning behind his superb trilogy.
It's been five years since we last heard from Austrian writer/director Ulrich Seidl. His last film, Import/Export, confirmed his status as one of Europe's great unsung auteurs. Since then he's been a busy boy, following up that 2007 critical success with not one but three films, each one following a different female protagonist desperately seeking escape and sexual fulfilment. With the second part of his outstanding Paradise films, Faith, out now, LWLies sat down with Seidl for a brief chat about how the trilogy came about.
LWLies: Why did you decide to make a trilogy?
Seidl: The starting point for the film was to make a single film, not three separate films. I wanted to make a film about three female protagonists, who are each looking for the fulfilment of their desires, of their longings. They each go on a journey to find satisfaction and to escape their sexual frustration. The idea was that the three episodes would be interwoven into a single film, with each woman going on holiday at a different point in the film. But the way I shoot is, when I'm in the editing room I look at all the material — in this case I had over 80 hours of footage — and at that point I'm trying to write the film anew. We tried over a long period to edit the film into a single one, but I saw that the best result was in fact to separate them into three separate films. So that's how the trilogy was born.
Why did you choose to focus on a younger woman in the third film?
Because I believe that it would be boring to make three films about women in their fifties. And also to show a different generational perspective as well; the third film being about a 13-year-old girl — who is the daughter of the woman in the first film and the niece of the woman in the second — who spends her summer at a diet camp and falls in love with a much older man. She's also looking to fulfil her desires.
Across the trilogy you touch upon themes such as sex tourism and religion, how much did you look into these themes before making the films?
Well first of all for many years I've been interested in the theme of mass tourism. I think you can say a lot about the world through tourism, and you can say a lot about the relationship with the Western world and the so-called developing world. I also think that female sex tourism is even more of a taboo than male sex tourism, so that's why it interested me as a theme; why is it the case that many women of a certain age can only find satisfaction and sexual fulfilment in this way? And in Africa, not in their own society. This search for physical satisfaction corresponds with the woman who's looking for God and spirituality as a means of supplementing a lack of physical fulfilment in her life. Austria is a very Catholic country, it's been marked by Catholicism for centuries. Anna Maria represents an extreme fashion, something that other people also experience. But her search for belief is her salvation, and that's very serious. All of my characters in all of my films, I can identify with their feelings.
What fascinates you about the human condition?
That humans are wolves, preying on other humans.
What do you love about movies?
It took me a long time to get into films. At first I was into painting and photography. But I think that what I want to say about the world and what I want to say about the way we live, our actions and the way we behave towards each other, film is the only medium in which to do that. It allows me to express my ideas and opinions visually in a way that no other medium can. I love that movies offer the audience stimulation. Films are a mirror to the world.
Read the LWLies review of Paradise: Faith, in cinemas 5 July.