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Austria, 2012, 113 Minute Running Time
Additional Countries: Germany, France
Program: Contemporary World CinemaLanguage: German, Arabic English Subtitles
DIRECTOR: Ulrich Seidl
Producer: Ulrich SeidlEditor: Christof SchertenleibScreenwriter: Ulrich Seidl, Veronika FranzCinematographer: Edward Lachman, Wolfgang ThalerPrincipal Cast: Maria Hofstätter, Nabil Saleh, Natalya Baranova, Rene Rupnik
Anna Maria is a quiet, middle-aged religious zealot who spends her vacation strolling the streets of Vienna with a foot-high Madonna, proselytizing house to house. Sometimes, she is sweet and generous, like a Catholic Welcome Wagon for immigrants. Sometimes she taps into deep, conflicted arguments over dogma, or wrestles (literally) with someone else’s demons. She has the buttoned-up look of a nun, but her appearance hides a private spiritual practice that is in its way as sexual as the licentiousness she seeks to stamp out. She disrobes before a crucifix and flagellates herself, thanking Jesus for the experience. She cinches her midriff with a cilice, a thornlike tool of self-torture. Her faith is her life, and it makes her happy—until her absentee husband, Nabil, shows up. Nabil is a wheelchair-bound Muslim who’s lived away with family for two years and suddenly wants to reunite with his wife. Anna Maria takes her role as wife seriously and takes cares of him. But her faith has become such an overwhelming part of her life that it dominates everything. Nabil intrudes wherever he can, first with pleas and whining, then in anger, accusing Anna Maria of infidelity, interrupting her devotions, and finally demanding his husband’s rights.
Alternately appalling (an orgy in the park) and hilarious (mean pranks the two play on each other), the film observes what happens when Anna Maria’s carefully laid plans meet the mess of the real world. Part of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy on love, faith, and hope, the film incorporates Seidl’s usual techniques of improvised dialogue and mixing professional actors with non-actors.
- VAL MOSES
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