Ulrich Seidl  about PARADISE: LOVE


«The fact that we go there to search for something we can’t find in our society, the fact that we, the rich, can afford to pay for that while the poor take advantage of this search to make money describes our world as a whole». Ulrich Seidl on PARADISE: LOVE, the first part of his trilogy.

I’ve only seen the first part of the Paradise trilogy. I assume that all three involve ideas about paradise, in the here and now and in the hereafter, as a place with a happiness that’s both desirable and impossible to achieve. Do your filmic observations this time involve fewer actual circumstances of someone’s life than the characters’ search, desires and (vain) striving?
Ulrich Seidl: They’re about both. My films always represent a stocktaking, a reflection of life and society, because one determines the other. Because one’s the way it is, people search for the other. The actual circumstances are the cause of the unsatisfied desires. Teresa goes to Kenya on a search for something she’s unable to find in her current life. The Paradise trilogy contains three stories about the desires of three individuals who are searching for something to fulfill their dreams, which in turn are related to our society. Teresa’s at an age where it’s difficult for her to find a man, because she just doesn’t match the conventional ideas about beauty anymore. The film’s also about the market value of beauty standards that are preached to us day in and day out.

Was there a time during development when several different women’s characters moved to the foreground of the story?
Ulrich Seidl: All screenplays undergo an indefinable genesis. I just begin at some point ? in the case of Paradise it was together with Veronika Franz, my wife ? without really knowing where the writing will go. The main objective was not to write a film about three women, but to write a screenplay on the theme of tourism, for which I had a number of episodic stories. One of them was a story in which a woman goes to Kenya.

What meaning can still be ascribed to the Christian ideas of faith, love and hope?
Ulrich Seidl: They play important roles in our lives, whether you’re religious or not. Everyone’s looking for love. Everybody has hope. With faith you have to make distinctions and consider the term in a somewhat broader sense. Everyone wants to believe in something, even if few people see themselves as being religious. The story with the Madonna statues is about a mission that involves a belief in God within the church framework. The young girl represents hope. Even if she’s disappointed by her first love, there’s plenty of time for hope.

What led you to do your previous work on the phenomenon of tourism?
Ulrich Seidl: Mass tourism is a huge business that spans the globe. Most of us participate in it. I think it’s the business sector that has earned the largest profits for decades now. When you look at how it works in Africa, you’re horrified, though this continent has other sides, of course. It’s as terrible as it is beautiful. The fact that we go there to search for something we can’t find in our society, the fact that we, the rich, can afford to pay for that while the poor take advantage of this search to make money describes our world as a whole, the exploitation illustrates the gap between rich and poor, between the West and Africa.

The film depicts hierarchical relationships that are determined by purchasing power, at the same time explaining that people here make one another objects of their desires, whether sexual, emotional or monetary, and in the end there are no winners.
Ulrich Seidl: In the short term, possibly. Relationships between European women and the beach boys there come in all types: Some are fast and short, others last years; some women try to bring their lovers to Europe, which always fails. There are women who build houses in Kenya with their lovers. Sooner or later it all fails. The hope is there, but the happiness usually doesn’t last. Many of the blacks go from one woman to the next. They always make a profit in some way and then end up losing it. The mentality of the Kenyans and other Africans is completely different than ours. The beach boys I met aren’t able to budget their money, for example. They live from day to day. When they get some money, they spend it with others, and it’s all gone in a few days. It’s a different way of looking at life. You also have to understand that in the region where the tourists are, this situation is especially extreme. Everybody who wants to make money goes there. Not only the native coastal residents are there, but everyone who wants to make money in the sex business.

Does that mean that the business with sex there comes in forms other than the classic type of prostitution, that it sometimes takes on forms that resemble relationships?
Ulrich Seidl: In the case of the beach boys there’s a little bit more charm involved. They make the women feel that they’re loved; they’re obliging, gentle. Older women can get something there that’s not as easy for them to get here. The men are really attentive, age and appearance really don’t matter. What woman wouldn’t want to experience that? And in return the women are more than willing to give them money, as the beach boys live in extreme poverty. Then they have to pay more and more and eventually support their families also.

What was production work in Kenya like? Did the language and cultural differences make the requirements for the roles and therefore casting more difficult than normal?
Ulrich Seidl: Of course, it’s extremely easy to meet beach boys. All you have to do is go to the beach, and you’re surrounded. The film shows things the way they really are. As a white, you’re the person they have to do business with and from whom they have to get money, you just can’t avoid that as a white. Of course, a film shoot is completely different. And even casting’s possible only when you pay people something. That would never be done here. Then, finding actors who had everything required proved to be difficult: people who were authentic on camera, who could be trusted, who were prepared to act out an affair on camera. There are not only problems with the limits of what someone considers proper, the beach boys are all subjected to pressure. As a film team we weren’t popular at the beach, because people have had bad experiences with negative reporting. Another problem we had was the unreliability. We cast some men, and when we returned a few months later, they were gone and had moved somewhere else. Life in Kenya is not as stable as it is here. I began casting two years before shooting started, and knew the people who had been chosen for a while, but I still couldn’t trust them completely. They always thought they weren’t getting enough. That has deep roots because of the exploitation during the colonial period. They believe that we Europeans are responsible for their problems and have to make up for that by paying a lot of money. They’re not fundamentally wrong about that, but when it interferes with your work, it can make things difficult.

How were authenticity, spontaneity and humor maintained in the dialogue in spite of the mixture of English and German?
Ulrich Seidl: We practiced that. Margarethe Thiesel is a great member of the cast, she’s extremely talented at improvisation, and Peter, her main lover in the film, can speak German much better than his character does in the film. You could say that he had to dial down his German, as it wouldn’t have been realistic otherwise. In fact, most of the beach boys speak several languages; they have to, or their business wouldn’t work.

The film has a number of extremely humorous moments where once again you make the audience wonder what was a fictitious idea from the director and what was based on your observations during research.
Ulrich Seidl: I’d say that you see a lot of things there that you’d rather not believe. Of course, we added our own ideas, but we also did a great deal of research about all the things that entertainers do in hotel clubs. I’m extremely grateful for the humor and the weirdness, which open the film up for both comedy and sadness. In any case, it’ll have an impact on the audience. At same point you have to be able to laugh at things.

In Dog Days there are several different protagonists, two in Import/Export, and now in the Paradise trilogy each part has its own. There’s a successive reduction and condensation, and this time you chose to use a linear narrative structure rather than a cris-crossed one. Why?
Ulrich Seidl: That’s new, and I admit that I enjoyed using it. Each of the three films comprises solely one story. In the beginning, while preparing for shooting, I already began thinking about something: What if these three stories don’t fit together to make a single film - I never know ahead of time how a film will turn out, and that’s why I planned to shoot each story so that it was complete and could stand by itself. At first we edited one film that lasted seven hours, and we tried out a wide variety of connections. We saw that making one film out of three stories would be possible, but it was a huge and difficult task, because I realized that the stories weakened each other instead of strengthening each other. Despite the intensity of the individual scenes, switching from one story to another made it impossible to focus. I also tried to connect just the mother and daughter stories and tell the one about the Madonnas as a single film, and so on. Then one day we realized that with the material available to us, the best artistic results could be produced with three separate films.


Interview: Karin Schiefer
May, 2012

Mai 2012