Paradise: Love, a graphic, unflinching look at the delicate interplay of desire, money and power among European women sex tourists and African gigolos, hit the screen as a Cannes contender on Friday and immediately generated a lot of a buzz.
Austrian director Ulrich Seidl has turned his camera on women as the consumers. The film stars Margarethe Tiesel as Teresa, a 50-year-old Viennese single mother who needs a break and sets off alone to the coast of eastern Kenya where she falls in line with a group of “sugar mamas” — fellow middle-aged women who feel neglected at home and seek the attention of much younger local men in exchange for cash.
“It is about female loneliness that takes hold when you reach a certain age and no longer look like someone from an advert... The exploited begin to exploit in a place where they have power. I don’t judge these women, I completely understand what they struggle with,” says Tiesel.
Seidl, one of 22 directors competing for the top prize at Cannes this year, says many Western women were looking for more than a holiday fling, a key difference to male sex tourism in developing countries.
“This is about our society in the first place and asking why women like Teresa find themselves so lonely. They go to these places where they think they can get what they need — their desire for happiness, sexuality and tenderness,” he says. While some critics hailed the work as a brilliant take on the commoditisation of the human body under modern capitalism, Hollywood Reporter called it a “tawdry little film”.