It opens with a woman whipping her naked back while praying to a tourist-shop crucifix, and given that this is an Ulrich Seidl film, this provocative introduction is likely to be the least painful or disturbing moment you see. The second entry in the Austrian director’s Paradise trilogy retains the overall philosophy and aesthetic of his work—beautifully symmetrical compositions, all the better to ambivalently showcase human ugliness—and like the other chapters, a longing female fuels the story. Anna Maria (Maria Hoffstätter) worships her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, with a piety that borders on mania, alternating between baroque self-harm and toting a Madonna statue door-to-door to spread the good word. She comes home one day from proselytizing to find a man (Nabil Saleh) sitting on her couch; we soon find out that he’s a Muslim, a paraplegic and her husband.
Most folks might use this scenario to mount a metaphorical (or literal) showdown between Christianity and Islam, but Seidl couldn’t care less about such things; he’s interested in how faith is used a crutch and a vehicle for transference for spiritual needs and physical desires. (There’s an erotic scene involving a cross that will not please Catholics.) He’s traveled down this road before with the documentary Jesus, You Know (2003), which already eloquently stated most of the devotion-to-dementia points trotted out here, and though there’s clearly a method to the movie’s masochism, this feels like a rough slog even by Seidl’s standards. It’s hard to say if Faith works better as part of a whole instead of a triptych’s single panel until the trilogy is complete, but the unconverted may find this too much of a cross to bear.
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