A graphic and unflinching look at the delicate interplay of desire, money and power among European women sex tourists and African gigolos hit the screen on Thursday in the Cannes Film Festival contender 'Paradise: Love'.
Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, who scandalised cinema's top international showcase five years ago with another take on rich and poor and the sex trade, 'Import/Export', this time turns his camera on women as the consumers.
'Paradise: Love' stars Margarethe Tiesel as Teresa, a 50-year-old Viennese single mother of an insolent teenage daughter who needs a break from it all, in a breakout performance cheered by audiences here.
She sets off alone to the white sandy coast of eastern Kenya where she falls in with a group of "sugar mamas", fellow middle-aged women who feel neglected at home and seek the attention of much younger local men in exchange for cash.
"It is about female loneliness that takes hold when you reach a certain age and no longer look like someone from an advert," News.com.au quoted Tiesel as saying.
"The exploited begin to exploit in a place where they have power. I don't judge these women, I understand them and I understand completely what they struggle with," Tiesel said.
Tiesel, an accomplished stage actress in her first major film role, appears nude through much of the picture and has various on-screen couplings with Kenyan "beach boys" that leave little to the imagination.
She said her faith in Seidl as a director gave her the confidence to expose herself to such an extent.
"Ulrich told me from the beginning, 'Nothing will happen that you don't want to happen, Frau Tiesel'," she said.
Seidl, one of 22 directors competing for the top prize at Cannes this year-all of them men, said many Western women were looking for more than a holiday fling, a key difference to male sex tourism in developing countries.
"This is about our society in the first place and asking why women like Teresa find themselves so lonely. They go to these places where they think they can get what they need-their desire for happiness, sexuality and tenderness," Seidl said.
"Women from the rich West exploit young African men. But it's also a business, and they (the men) get something for it," he said.
'Paradise' revisits ground covered in the trailblazing 2005 film 'Heading South' starring Charlotte Rampling and set in a Haitian resort but critics hailed a fresh approach to the rich subject matter.
Some critics hailed the work as a brilliant take on the commoditisation of the human body under modern capitalism but the Hollywood Reporter notably dismissed the Cannes competition entry as a "tawdry little film".