“The skin, the thrill, it’s exotic. They take me as I am.” Teresa’s friend
The entitlement of these white European “sugar mammas” – patrons of a resort in Kenya where black men sell their bodies and time for money – who see themselves as objects of affection and even love for these “less privileged” black men, can’t be dismissed. “Have you ever been with a white woman?” is one of the questions Teresa, a 50-year old overweight, and lonely, Austrian woman and mother asks a Kenyan beach-boy lover as she attempts to gage his real interest in her while on a vacation getaway.
What’s intriguing about the cringeworthy first part of a film trilogy helmed by Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, ostensibly titled Paradise…Love, is the irony of such title. The thought-provoking and affecting dark comedy/drama isn’t as lighthearted and fun as its trailer suggests.
The young Kenyan beach men that Teresa comes across with don’t stipulate the money for “love” deal; some of these men can easily spot an attention-starved, lonesome woman seeking genuine affection rather than just sex. She’s an easy “prey”; these men must be very coy about their ploy to “exploit” her for funds. However, the bold drama makes you ponder on this very exploitation issue: who’s really exploiting whom?
Teresa is a peculiar case, although one can’t be certain of its rarity. She wants to feel wanted, sexually desired. She isn’t married, and one can sense that it’s been a while since she has been with a man, sexually or otherwise. Teresa wishes for someone to caress her gently while gazing lovingly into her eyes. But, It seems like resort regulars, like Teresa’s friend, understand exactly what they get out of this business transaction: sex, attention, company and….sex. They know they have to pay, and they don’t mind becoming “sugar mamas” to these “exotic” men, and, perhaps to some degree, they think these young men actually enjoy their company and bodies. It’s all a fantasy after all.
Teresa’s friend, who tells her that she will get addicted to the Kenyan men’s skin “because it smells like coconut,” teaches a Kenyan bartender how to say “sexy beast” in German in an early key scene. “You have beautiful teeth, like the Uncle Ben’s man,” says Teresa’s friend. They laugh…with him and at him. She also tells Teresa that she can tell them apart by their “size,” and that they’re a “bed time treat.”
Teresa is in for a rude awakening as the story unfolds. The men that have been keeping her company, especially one whom she has taken a special interest in, can’t keep their focus on her for indefinite amounts of time; he tells her that his sister’s baby is sick; they need money; another man’s brother just got into an accident that day; he needs money to cover the hospital fees. Ultimately, Teresa is rendered a victim to her own pathetic delusions.
Paradise…Love presents a grim account of this taboo yet very real sex-industry. There are African men who are hustlers on these beaches, and who sell their time and their bodies just like they sell material goods and transportation services. These European women aren’t special or even a novelty, and these men have wives and families at home to support.
The performances are wholly convincing, and they are most compelling aspect of the technically sound and admirably photographed Paradise. Overall, the film is uncompromising in its portrait of imperfect humanity, and it’s devoid of all didacticism. Things aren’t what they seem; these men are hustling to survive. The repugnance of the film’s dilemma in regards to the commodification of black men’s bodies for white women’s pleasure seems to be avenged by the unnerving and poignant last scenes, which make it clear – to the Paradise buyer’s dismay, that some of these black men aren’t willing to do just about anything, not for a white woman, and not for money.