Director Ulrich Seild, provides audiences with an uncompromising study of the morally dubious nature of sex tourism. While the characters portrayed may be either black or white, the themes presented are anything but. Instead there is as much grey in his film as there are grains of sand on the gorgeous beaches of Kenya.
With skin etched with wrinkles and breasts losing their battle with gravity, in a society that idolises youthful beauty above all else, 50-year-old Austrian, Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) finds herself venturing to Kenya masquerading as a sex tourist, when in truth she is in search of acceptance.
Surrounded by crystal blue water and a throng of young male merchants lapping at her feet, while on the surface Teresa may seem frustrated by the constant pestering, beneath it, it’s plain to see that the pantomime conceals how flattered she is. However, it’s Munga’s (Peter Kazungu) calmer and less pushy exterior that catches her attention and after a previous sexual liaison ended in disappointment, Teresa is keen to see where this new encounter could take her. With the thin vale of a mosquito net concealing their love making, Teresa soon finds herself enjoying many nights of heated passion with Munga.
Yet, despite Munga’s attempts to convince Teresa that love is forever in Africa, it soon becomes abundantly clear that it isn’t free either. From a supposed sister to a local school teacher, Munga jostles Teresa around his village as if she were a walking, talking ATM machine. But don’t feel sad for Teresa, it increasingly becomes apparent that her friends and Teresa to an extent, merely see the Kenyans as exotic playthings to only be eroticised and fetishized.
The nonchalant objectifications of the Black body is at its most visceral and uncomfortable in a scene taking place in Teresa’s hotel room. In celebration for her birthday, Teresa’s friends surprise her with a stripper, and then proceed to spend the night gawping at him and challenging each other to see who can arouse him first. Finally, when the stripper is unable to deliver on said erection, with causal abandon they quickly boot him out of the room.
Going against the usual roles of sex tourism, i.e men the pursues and women the objectified, by subverting traditional architypes, Seild cleverly offers himself the opportunity to explore the subject with watered down seedy undertones and a more empathetic approach to his main character. For instance, the scene in the hotel room would certainly have been a lot less palatable if it were four men and one woman.
Slow and the maturity to avoid over dramatizing, Seild also allows his audience breathing room to peal back the intricate layers of the film and work out for themselves where their loyalties truly lie and why.
No doubt Teresa desires the Kenyans only for physical intimacy and not as potential long term partners, but through the second guessing of her looks and naked vulnerability in front of each man, it soon becomes abundantly clear, in reality, that she desires the affirmation of her beauty more than just the sex itself. Yet, the brittleness beneath the stitched on smile was a fine balancing act Margarethe Tiesel was able to effortlessly pull off, with endearing charm and a real compassion for the character she was playing.
An eye opening film that challenges preconceptions and really causes its audience to pause, reflect and then consider the true price of love and how much they would be willing to pay for it – Paradise: Love is continental filmmaking at its finest.