Like his fellow countryman Michael Haneke, Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl has a love of symmetrical, meticulously composed shots and, seemingly, a serious beef with the human race. (Seriously, what the fuck is in Austria’s water supply?) The director’s latest won’t necessarily persuade detractors that the man doesn’t enjoy pulling the wings off of flies; his 50-year-old heroine, Teresa (Margarete Tiesel), may think she’s arrived in paradise, but her inner compass is off by a million miles. Vacationing at a Kenyan resort renowned for its rent boys, this lonely middle-aged widow is advised to choose a companion. “They smell like coconut and they’ll dance nude for you,” she’s told, so Teresa hooks up with a dreadlocked beach stud (Peter Kazungu). Cue libido-killing sex scenes, Marxist critiques on the body as commodity, casual racism, not-so-casual racism and the feeling that life is simply one long slog toward becoming worm food.
As with past works like Dog Days (2001), a sense of behind-the-camera finger-wagging reigns supreme, and the film’s first half sets viewers up for a dour, deadpan takedown of colonialism 2.0. But that second word in the title is key: Whereas the local men accept the toll such transactions exact on both parties, Teresa can’t, or won’t, acknowledge anything other than her pining for a genuine connection. The importance of Tiesel’s performance here can’t be overstated, and even during what is easily the most excruciating birthday-party scene involving cock ribbons ever, the actor lends an incredibly profound sense of sorrow to the film’s pitilessness. Love is the first part of a trilogy, the other entries being Faith and Hope; it’s a tribute to Tiesel's ray of humanity that this chapter underlines its subtitle while still getting its unflinching message across.
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