Paradies: Liebe is a paradoxical film. On the surface, it seems harsh: a study of the sex tourism in Kenya and the power connections between young Black males and mature White women. Actually, it is a film of subtlety, harder than Vers Le Sud (2005) that faced the same issues with a touch of romantic tragedy: one that merges historical echoes with humour and horror.
The director, Ulrich Siedl opens Liebe with Teresa shouting instructions to a group of SEN adults as they bump and grind their cars at a fairground attraction. This disturbing image is a re-creation of La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler (1950). The fantasy merry-go round and circle of sex is about to be brutally re-created. Ironically, this image will be evoked again as the White female tourists and Black hotel entertainers perform a circle dance in the swimming pool whilst singing hakuna matata. And in the gyrating stripper scene during Teresa’s birthday where bumping and grinding become a freakish sex show.
Liebe is beautifully photographed and plotted. Images such as the one below
remain in the mind, as do those of the mosquito net which Munga pulls like a religious veil around the artistic nude body of Teresa…the same net which she opens to take cropped, racist holiday souvenirs of Munga’s body, especially his large penis. Siedl has a real eye for the use of motifs and symbols.
There is much to admire in this film; notably, the stunning and convincing portrayal of Teresa by Margarete Tiesel. Her quest for Paradise moves towards a stay in Hell. Her acting was so good that the film almost seemed like a documentary at time.
On the night I saw Liebe at The Hyde Park Picture House, in Leeds, the audience was made of mainly grown-up people who had come to watch a difficult film, to be entertained by images and ideas. The film left me with many thoughts, as a young black male. It made me think about what love is, how love is often connected to money, how the wealth of White fe/males can be used by them to manipulate youthful Black males like myself. The film wasn’t just about Kenya. It was about the racist power structures that tie people in the net of love. I have never seen a film like Liebe before: it was a special experience for me!