The third and final film in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy tells the story of Melanie, an overweight 13 year old girl who spends her summer vacation in a strictly run diet camp in the Austrian countryside. Between the nutritional counseling and sports activities, Melanie bonds with the other adolescents at the camp before falling in love with the camp's doctor, a man who is at least 40 years her senior. Paradise: Hope is the closest thing to a "coming of age story" Seidel is ever going to make. The film spends a lot of time with its young cast of characters, examining their hopes, dreams and desires with Seidl seemingly fascinated with their untarnished youthful exuberance. As Melanie begins to show signs of her crush on the doctor, with him somewhat reciprocating his affection, the film does become a little uncomfortable but still manages to be touching. The doctor is not a character we spend much time with but it's clear he is lonely from a few well constructed scenes. What really took me off guard with this film is Seidl's empathy for these characters. The film never judges either of its primary subjects, being far more affectionate and caring about them than most of Seidl's other films. The cinematography very much represents Seidl's style too, but it really dictates the emotions of the characters, using static frame shots frequently when the kids are doing their fat camp activities and more handheld when they are able to socialize and act their age. Ulrich Seidl's Paradise Hope is still a somewhat unsettling film at times but it's by far his most empathetic film I have seen in delivering a pretty poignant tale of the adolescent crush.
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