She returns one day to the unwelcome surprise of husband Nabil (Nabil Saleh), an Egyptian Muslim back after an unexplained two-year absence. They've both changed greatly — back then he wasn't yet paralyzed from the waist down, and she wasn't a born-again fanatic. He's nonplussed that her vinegary form of "Christian charity" treats him more as a home-nursing burden than a marital partner, and hostilities between them soon escalate to nightmarish proportions.
Ultimately, faith provides no comfort — and that failure induces a crisis of faith. Rigorously controlled in aesthetic terms, Seidl goes over the top content-wise at times — as when Anna Maria stumbles upon a public park orgy, or uses a crucifix à la Linda Blair — yet this cruel portrait of religious fixation has a certain compulsive, often cringe-inducing tension.
Finally, there's some light at the end of the tunnel with Paradise: Hope (2013). While Teresa is fucking Africans and Anna Maria proselytizing, the former's teenage daughter Melanie (Melanie Lenz) has been packed off to fat camp, where she and other pudgy youths endure long days of tortuous exercise and other "improving" programs. But the kids have each other; rather surprisingly, Seidl doesn't rain gloom on their giddy rapport. Melanie also develops a serious crush on the resident doctor, a handsome, friendly, and flirtatious fellow (Michael Thomas) approximately four times her age.
Convinced she's overdue to lose her virginity, she's an avid pursuer — and disturbingly, he's kinda interested. It is the movie's major failing that seemingly kind, intelligent, grounded Dr. Arzt remains too much of an enigma for us to grasp why he'd even consider taking up a 13-year-old on the offer of herself. Yes, Melanie is cute, vivacious, and likable ... but, well, come on. Of course this won't end well. Still, Hope is indeed the most hopeful of the Paradise trilogy: its main character's life isn't ruined already, and she might well survive the hard knocks she's given here to experience actual happiness.
ULRICH SEIDL'S PARADISE TRILOGY
June 13-30, $8-$10
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission, SF