05/21/2012 10:02 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cannes 2012: Ulrich Seidl's Love and Beach Boys as Sex Toys for Older Women

It's a sympathetic look at how people use each other, for their own needs. Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's film Love"(the first of a trilogy Paradise) tells the story of a group of terribly unattractive dumpy blonde Austrian women on vacation on a Kenyan beach, for the main purpose of using the handsome black locals as sexual partners. The women's obnoxious pedestrianism is obvious as one loud blonde pinches and paws her own black honey, as he squirms on a motorbike she bought him.


Like traditional images of old lecherous men who abuse and use younger women, buoyed by their financial superiority, these images disgust us. The cocky women vaunt their power, with rude sneering, just like the traditional sugar-daddy. They laugh and gawk at a bartender, polishing his bar on the beach, and compare his skin to "glistening bacon-rind": one of the many brilliant riffs, improvised, the director told me, on the spot in Kenya.

"You know, bacon-rind," one woman jeers, repeating it over and over. "Bacon rind."

"I make these raps go on and on, until they become unbearable," the director, in total black (with a gold chain from his pocket), grinned.


The women lie, fat and white, on beach chairs in front of their secluded middle-class resort, looking a bit like hogs themselves. They rap about their aging pubic hair, the good-smelling African skin.

They have no qualms that they are -- self-admittedly -- old, wrinkled and ugly, and have the right to stroke and touch these gorgeous men. After all, they are white: "Have you ever touched a white woman?" says the lead woman, as if it is a privilege.

Yet despite how awful the women are -- an awfulness that the director makes clear from the beginning -- there is also something incredibly vulnerable about them. The women are lonely, desperate to be touched.

Says Seidl: "This is the story of women who cannot find the tenderness they need at home, and therefore travel to Kenya to be able to get what they need. The women, exploited at home, go on to exploit the boys in Africa. Boys get something out of it, because they make their living."

One woman in particular -- Teresa, the heroine of this film -- has the needy smile of a child as she makes friends with black men on the beach. She tries sex with one, but realizes it is too alienating. She needs human contact. She needs someone to "look her in the eyes and see her."


Many touching scenes follow, as Teresa tries to teach one potential lover how to touch her breast sensually and not paw it. She is trying to educate him to be a sensitive human being, something that she herself needs education in as well. We don't completely feel sorry for her because she herself is so needy and self-absorbed, she does not truly "see" the black men for who they are.

She does not see that they are exploiting the white women as much as they are exploiting them. It's money for love, love for money. Two troupes of people negotiating and scheming, based on their power ability. Sex and youth versus money.

"Give me more money" becomes the constant refrain.

The lead blonde's vulnerability touches us. She is so lonely that she begs her daughter to call her to wish her a happy birthday. She smokes cigarette after cigarette.

What makes this film hard to watch is that we know it is true. The sex tourism of European women in Africa is growing, and the neediness of the women and the exploitation of the boys strikes us as very real.

The traditional gender roles turn. A black man strips for the amusement of the laughing gawking drunk white women, one of the most atrocious scenes in the film. The women comment on his limp penis.

Sex becomes crude and empty of meaning.

The movie ends with a gorgeous shot of loneliness and alienation: Teresa walking on the Kenyan beach, before three dhows silent in the distance, while black men do handsprings, one by one, before her.