Critical Strands: On the Beach with Ulrich Seidl and Martin Parr

Top: Martin Parr, from “Life’s a Beach”. Bottom: Ulrich Seidl, from Paradise: Love.

Top: Martin Parr, from “Life’s a Beach”. Bottom: Ulrich Seidl, from Paradise: Love.

Some films you watch. Others you live. In Ulrich Seidl’s films you suffer. You suffer and laugh, and laugh and suffer, until tears pour from your eyes, until out from laughter arises guilt. Guilt for having suffered. Guilt for having laughed. And only then, when you emerge from the guilt, wipe the film from your eyes, do you realize that the naïve 200-pound quinquagenarian Austrian sex-tourist on holiday in Kenya is none other then yourself, if not your sister or perhaps mother. Only then does the comfort of guilt morph into the vexation of shame as you understand that the buffoon you saw on the screen was wearing what turned out to be your face for a mask.

But don’t say you weren’t forewarned. The ballsy and shameless opening scene of Paradise: Love, should have given notice enough. After all, away from the scrutinizing eyes of society it becomes too easy to indulge in the visual pleasure of watching warped grimaces twisting in glee and shock across the faces of the spasmodic, the abnormal, the mongoloid. Hidden behind the comfort of our  screen (for it is always our screen, and never just yours or mine) it becomes all too simple to relish images of the rejected visages of the mentally retarded contorting themselves in farcical masks as their bumper cars smash into each other, watching Teresa, our fat Austrian heroine, watch them. Our white-winged socially-implanted moral warden hanging over our right shoulder like a wee angel warns us against laughter, but in the liberty and obscurity of the cinematic chamber, we let loose with a laughter poised on the razor’s edge between discomfort and hilarity. Paradise: Love’s opening scene is a warning, a provocation, a contract of the film to come, and it reads: “I will force you to laugh at things not only which you do not want to laugh at, but which you know you should not.” But laugh we do, and in so doing become accomplices to the film. Seidl’s humor is not the innocent cathartic guffaw of slapstick, nor the healing chortle of satire. It is a blow aimed to crack open a chink in the armor of our self-righteousness to make way for the stiletto of shame to slide in more easily

Read the rest here on MUBI Notebok


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