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Austria's bad boy director turns 'Lolita' on its head

One of Europe's most controversial directors, Ulrich Seidl of Austria, unveiled a new drama at the 63rd Berlin film festival Friday about a teen who falls for a man four decades her senior.

Seidl revisits themes of sex, power, the cultural obsession with the female body and a hunger for human connection in "Paradise: Hope", the final chapter in a trilogy and one of 19 contenders for the event's Golden Bear top prize.

The film's predecessors premiered at Cannes and Venice, marking a rare hat-trick for a contemporary director.

Co-screenwriter Veronika Franz said she and Seidl aimed to take the "Lolita" story and turn it on its head by telling it from the perspective of the longing young girl rather than the tormented older man.

The film tells the tale of heavy-set Melanie, in the throes of puberty and shipped off by her single mother to a diet camp where calorie counting, sport and humiliation make up the strict regimen.

A pert dietician blows into a shrill whistle and leads the girls and boys in choruses of "If you're happy and you know it, clap your fat!"

Melanie, 13, played by amateur actress Melanie Lenz, seeks refuge in the office of the camp doctor, a trim 50-something convertible driver who covers up his loneliness with a flirtatious manner.

The girl basks in the doctor's attention and begins trailing him at every opportunity and revealing her infatuation with him to a friend at the camp.

The doctor is clearly drawn to Melanie as well but treads a perilously thin line, indulging her affections without ever making explicitly sexual contact.

"My mom had her doubts but then she finally relented because this opportunity doesn't come along five times in a lifetime," Lenz said.

Seidl, who exploded onto the European art-house cinema scene with deeply divisive features such as "Import/Export" about eastern European women in the sex industry, said he liked working with lay actors and usually kept the cast from seeing the script to allow them to improvise in character.

"This was not the typical story -- an older man abuses a young girl -- but rather what happens to a man when he experiences that kind of love. It's a fine line," said Joseph Lorenz who played the doctor.

Seidl said he was used to extreme reactions to his work, saying it was the price of tackling delicate themes in an unflinching way.

"I have just stayed the course," he said. "But of course many have been hostile, particularly in Austria."

The first film in the trilogy, "Paradise: Love", is an eye-opening and graphic portrayal of lonely European women who go to Africa as sex tourists -- one of whom is Melanie's mother in the final film.

The second, "Paradise: Faith", deals with a sister of the first protagonist who quits her job as a nurse to devote herself to religious practice. Italian media branded it "blasphemous" after its premiere at Venice.

Seidl is currently working on a film about "Austrians and the cellars" deriving from the stories of Natascha Kampusch, a girl held against her will in a basement for more than eight years, and Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.

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