Tuesday, June 25, 2013


The opening scene of Paradise: Love is one that shows a number of developmentally disabled young adults driving bumper cars at an amusement park. The camera lingers on them for quite a while, as they gleefully scoot around the floor, unaware of the power that the cars give them, just having one hell of a good time. Before this degenerates into crashes and bullying and bad feelings, a caregiver calls a halt to the outing and everyone gets up and leaves.

This sort of happy ending eludes the caregiver herself, when she embarks upon her own private amusement park, a beach resort in Kenya complete with rent boys. At first she’s titillated and amused, with a dash of delighted horror, when a fellow Eurohag tells her of the special extracurricular activities that lie in wait for her. This hausfrau is initially enchanted by monkeys on her balcony, the sight of beach and sea, the pleasures of cigarettes and cocktails beneath palm trees and the open sky. There’s a sweetness to her pleasure upon arrival; her broad and simple smile, her wide, blue stare, the unashamed bulges of her exposed flesh. She’s a woman without artifice, not particularly bright, who’s thrilled to be on holiday.

But she’s being singled out as an unattached source of ready money. Whisked off by an enterprising charmer, she ends up fending off his unsophisticated advances in a stark little room. Later she asks her compatriots, all women of a certain age, all well aware of the fleshly delights that surround them, “Don’t you just wish someone would look into your eyes?”

The lady wants romance, she wants to be desired, she wants her middle-aged fantasies to come true. The man of her dreams rescues her from a crowd of importunate beach vendors, assures her that she is special, beautiful, alluring. And for a brief moment she is. Her pink, floppy flesh takes on true loveliness as she lies naked in a post-coital nap. Her smile is radiant. She wanders hand in hand through a beach village with a truly gorgeous man who has chosen her, who has absorbed her lessons in the art of tender seduction, who looks into her eyes. Then he begins the long litany of family disasters that require money—her money and lots of it. When his “sister” turns out to be his wife, paradise begins to curdle around the edges.

Deprived of romance, the hausfrau becomes a harpy. A series of harrowing scenes showing how thoroughly power corrupts become increasingly difficult to watch. Finally the woman who had happily shared a soapy shower with a bedmate, gleefully cleaning and being cleaned, ends up barking orders at the man of the minute, telling him to bathe thoroughly as she waits, sprawled on a bed, drunken and sweaty in her stained and crumpled dress.

Sex tourism has been insufficiently examined, and rarely from the female point of view. The parameters of the sex trade have been defined by men, and, like it or not, they have made a fairly straightforward business of it. Money changes hands, love is not required, romance is unnecessary. The male flesh is willing and the female flesh is able to pretend.

As shown in Paradise: Love, the same is not the case when women are the purchasers, and the perennial question of what do women really want comes around one more time. By the end of the movie, what I wanted was a nice, tough, mercenary madam to saunter onto that beach and start setting prices, collecting bar fines, kicking ass, and taking names. As it is now, according to this director and this screenplay, none of these strangers in paradise is having a good time.


shaved monkey said...

Now I want to see this movie.

Janet Brown said...

Werner Herzog said about this director's work, "I have stared into hell." A reviewer commented that despite the nudity and subject matter, this was neither erotic nor pornographic. I agree with both of these assessments,