Last month the second and third parts of Ulrich Seidl’s “Paradise” trilogy screened at the European Union Film Festival; I hope they return sooner rather than later. The trilogy seems to me Seidl’s most accomplished work to date, continuing the Austrian filmmaker’s mission to confront social taboos while consistently displaying an affection towards his subjects that had emerged only fitfully in his earlier films. The latent compassion of a film like Animal Love, Seidl’s documentary about social outcasts whose closest relationships are with their pets, has finally blossomed, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Formally, a key difference between the “Paradise” films and most of Seidl’s earlier features is that they don’t rely on crosscutting. Previously the director would advance a single theme by alternating between several characters and story lines. It was a clever way to bring a sense of dramatic development to mostly static images, but it could also come off as flip. As soon as a character’s plight seemed too pathetic to watch (I think of the flabby, middle-aged masochist in Dog Days), Seidl would cut to something else. At his worst moments, he seemed to be challenging the viewer’s empathy so that he could pull back and say, “Just kidding.”