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Originally published Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 10:05 PM

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‘Paradise: Faith’: Object of wife’s desire fuels turmoil

A movie review of “Paradise: Faith,” the second chapter of Ulrich Seidl’s trilogy about love, faith and hope. Instead of erotic love (like in “Paradise: Love”), the object of the protagonist’s desire is Jesus.

The New York Times

Movie Review

‘Paradise: Faith,’ with Maria Hofstätter, Nabil Saleh. Directed by Ulrich Seidl, from a screenplay by Seidl and Veronika Franz. 113 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences. In German and Arabic, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema at the Uptown.

The New York Times does not provide star ratings with reviews.

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Grotesquerie is in the eye of the beholder. That’s one lesson to be taken from the cinematic provocations of Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, who, by presenting his characters as exotic specimens under a microscope, dares you to recoil.

The objects of perusal in “Paradise: Faith,” the second chapter of his trilogy of films about love, faith and hope, are Anna Maria (Maria Hofstätter), a 50-ish medical technician and Roman Catholic missionary, and her paraplegic Egyptian Muslim husband, Nabil (Nabil Saleh).

Each film in the trilogy examines a character embarked on a futile quest for happiness. Teresa, the protagonist of the first part, “Paradise: Love,” is Anna Maria’s sister. An obese, homely sex tourist, she travels to Kenya to pleasure herself with impoverished local beach boys in exchange for money. One of the nastier jokes is that all the cash in the world can’t sexually arouse her prey. That movie is an unsettling study of exploitation and avarice that comes to nothing.

“Paradise: Faith” is just as extreme, but less satisfying, because its disgust outweighs its compassion. Instead of erotic love, the object of Anna Maria’s desire is Jesus.

The first words are Anna Maria’s spoken prayer to a crucifix on the wall: “Beloved Jesus, please accept my sacrifice today for the grave sin of unchastity. So many people are obsessed with sex. Free them from their hell.” Stripping to the waist and falling to her knees, she ritually flagellates herself.

Nabil appears out of the blue in the middle of the film. The movie offers no history of their relationship beyond indicating that they haven’t seen each other for two years. Before long, they are waging a personal religious war of words as Anna Maria refuses to have sex .

When not skirmishing with Nabil, Anna Maria commutes to Vienna to do grass-roots missionary work. Knocking on the doors of strangers, she announces, “The mother of God has come to visit you today.” That mother is a 2-foot-high statue of the Virgin Mary, to which she insists they pray.

Like it or not, “Paradise: Faith” sticks in your head. The fierce, indelible performance of Hofstätter may make you cringe with revulsion, but it is utterly riveting.

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