Next week I'll start reviewing some Movies You (probably) Missed that just received Oscar nominations. Meanwhile...
This week in movies you missed: A middle-aged Austrian frau tries sex tourism.
What You Missed
Fifty-year-old divorcee Teresa (Margarethe Tiesel) says goodbye to her teenage daughter and leaves her bleak apartment in Vienna for a sunny Kenyan vacation.
She finds herself in a sterile beach resort with armed guards protecting her from the populace. Her friend from home (Inge Maux) tells Teresa that great opportunities lie beyond the fences — namely, handsome young men who are eager to find European "sugar mamas."
Unlike her friend, Teresa hates the idea of paying for sex; what she seeks is a man who will look her straight in the eyes. After an awkward false start, she finds a young Kenyan named Munga (Peter Kazungu) who will interact with her like a lover and not a prostitute. Or so she thinks, until he starts asking for money.
Why You Missed It
Paradise: Love contended for the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2012. It's the first part of a trilogy from Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, showing us what each member of a family did during a single vacation. (The other films focus on Teresa's sister and daughter.)
Love only reached four U.S. theaters, but it's now available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime, along with the sequel, Paradise: Faith.
Should You Keep Missing It?
That depends. Do you find the topic of female sex tourism fascinating? Are you willing to squirm with discomfort as Seidl stages highly unsexy sex scenes, all of them showcasing the heroine's very un-Hollywood body? Or does the whole idea provoke one massive shudder?
You should also know this film isn't camp; it isn't goading us to snicker at Teresa or her urges. It doesn't moralize in obvious ways about western exploitation, either, unlike the only other film I know on this subject: Heading South, in which Charlotte Rampling looked for love in Haiti.
Side note: Why are there two narrative movies about female sex tourism and none, to my knowledge, about the far more common practice of male sex tourism? That's a question in itself. I'm not sure you can count, say, The Hangover Part II as a clinical investigation of the phenomenon.
And Seidl is nothing if not clinical in his realism. He tends to use lengthy, medium-wide shots and relentlessly deep focus, trapping his characters in tableaux that reveal more about them than they'd like. We see that Teresa's search for love in Kenya is hopeless long before she does.
And yet, we feel for her — or at least, I did. Once you get past the stereotype of "fat white privileged tourist" (which she does, on the outside, embody), Tiesel has a likable, teasing humor. You don't want her to be hurt, yet her naïveté makes it inevitable. Whether she tries to treat the young Kenyans like real people or objectifies them, she never quite connects with them.
In the first scene of the movie, we see Teresa at her own job: running bumper cars. While her clients scream ecstatically, she watches, bored and glum.
For every person trying to fulfill their fantasies on vacation, the movie suggests, there's an army of workers who aren't having any fun. Seidl gives you empathy for both parties.
Verdict: depressing and revealing. Do not watch expecting soft-core porn, or if you're about to go on a tropical vacay.
This Week in Theaters
All hail the lackluster January releases, and there's something for everyone (or not)! For your action needs, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. For comedy, Ride Along. For the kiddies, The Nut Job. For horror, Devil's Due.
At the Savoy only, Geoffrey Rush plays a snobby fine art auctioneer in The Best Offer.
This Week on Video
Blue Caprice, Carrie, Enough Said, Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler, Riddick, Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, 20 Feet From Stardom, You're Next.