Excerpts from an interview with Ulrich Seidl

"PARADISE: Faith" is not least of all a film about religious fanaticism. How did you come to the story of the "Wandering Virgin?"

In the course of my work on "Jesus, You Know" (2003), a film about intimacy with God, we discovered that in Austria (and doubtless in Germany and elsewhere too) thousands of so-called Wandering Virgin statues are in circulation. They are carried from door to door by devout Catholics, most of them women. When people take in one of these Virgins, it is because they expect her to heal their physical or psychological distress. Aside from the fact that it's a wonderful subject for a film, such house visits were ideal for telling "mini-stories" within a larger story, a film structure that I've used ever since "Good News" (1990), my first theatrical film.

The film's protagonist is the sister of the sex tourist in the first film in the trilogy. Yet the two women couldn't be more different. What are we supposed to imagine in terms of a common family history?

Both sisters, both of them women over 50, have a similar problem: They are disappointed with love, disappointed with men, they're sexually frustrated and they have deep pent-up longing. But each deals with it differently: One seeks love in Kenya (of the carnal variety), the other seeks happiness in her spiritual love of Jesus – whom in the end she also desires like an earthly man.

Maria Hofstätter, the lead actress in "PARADISE: Faith," worked with you as early as "Dog Days" (2001). Has anything changed over the years in your method of working together?

Between Maria Hofstätter and me there's a decade-old relationship of trust – and in our work we are both incorrigible perfectionists. Our method of working is always determined by the tasks and intentions that we have set for each role. In the case of the Wandering Virgin, for Maria it was at times a Calvary. From the start, she knew that it would be very hard for her to internalize and embody this "religious figure" – precisely because she had a strict religious upbringing, and this form of religion inflicted psychological damage on her, among other things.

How did you go about researching the homes and life stories for the film?

We bought a Wandering Virgin statue – which in this case had to be a Rosa Mystica – and went from house to house and door to door. We would knock and then try to do the things we'd observed and learned during our research when we accompanied "real" women who carry the Wandering Virgin. We prayed with people, asked them questions and attempted to convince them to become believers.

Ulrich Seidl in conversation with Claus Philipp