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Cannes Fetish Porn? Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone, Sex Tourism in Paradise (Love)

Hot French double-amputee on bare-knuckle boxer sex. Fleshy Austrian cougar cycles between multiple young, fit African gigolos. Loglines of highly-specific fetish porn, or of movies premiering Thursday in the Cannes Film Festival main competition? Perhaps both, but definitely the latter: Oscar winner Marion Cotillard plays the fetching legless woman opposite Bullhead stud Matthias Schoenaerts in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone, while Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl explores the hangover of colonialism through sex tourism in the (ironic title alert!) Paradise (Love).

In contrast, what you see is not exactly open for interpretation in the cheerfully vulgar Paradise (Love). It's the first in a planned trilogy from Seidl (Import/Export, Models), whose work is noted for a particular brand of "staged reality" -- documentaries styled like fiction, and ostensible fiction features in which amateur actors and professionals seamlessly interact in dramas with "real" elements, or maybe vice-versa. Paradise (Love) follows the increasingly sordid misadventures of Teresa (Margarete Tiesel), a doughy, apparently single mom who goes on vacation to Kenya, at a resort where young black men line up on the beach waiting to swarm the guests to badger them into various transactions. There, Theresa's friend, a fellow older Austrian lady, has become sugar mama to a young, black stud. Therese is initially nervous -- "The problem is, they all look alike," she frets -- but soon takes to it like Goldilocks, trying out one local man after another in search of "love." She never finds a man who is just right -- all of them gouge her for cash, eventually -- and she's strangely shocked by this, even as her interactions with the other European ladies at the resort suggest these kinds of arrangements are not only the bedrock of the local economy, but the reason why a single older lady would come to this specific part of the world in the first place. Set against the candy-colored backdrop of a beach resort and equally colorful surrounding slums, is the inverse of the drab, naturalistic social realism of so much current international cinema -- it's more like social surrealism. But its worldview is undeniably bleaker than anything offered up by, say, the Dardennes or the Romanian naturalists. It's one of total supply and demand, cross-cultural exploitation, with no possibility of connection outside of commodification. Given that the white ladies are all played by actresses with substantial IMDB profiles and the black actors are all apparent first-timers, one wonders how closely the production mirrored the queasy, exploitative economics depicted in the film. It would be totally fitting with Seidl's apparent project if Paradise (Love) was, in some sense, a documentary of its own making. But that doesn't make its facile ironies about still-pervasive, post-colonial exploitation and dehumanization any more enlightening.


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