‘Paradise: Love’, a film showing a middle-aged white woman travelling to Africa for sex with male gigolos, has divided critics at the Cannes Film Festival.

According to the Daily Mail, the film, the first of a trilogy, explores sex tourism among rich, European women. It stars Magarethe Tiesel as a 50-year-old Austrian woman searching for love. Tiesel, previously a stage actress, appears nude throughout the film and engages in several graphic scenes with Kenyan beach boys in her first major film role.

Tiesel told journalists that she didn’t judge the character she played, explaining that the film studied female loneliness and the way that “people who are exploited at home travel abroad and become exploiters in turn”.

‘Paradise: Love’ is directed by Ulrich Seidl, who says the film is the first instalment in a trilogy about modern tourism. He explained that his subject differed from male sex tourism in developing countries because Western women were looking for more than just a holiday fling.

“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.

“As a filmmaker my goal is to depict things as honestly as possible. To deal with social systems, to show them as realistically as possible. Negative, positive, pessimistic, whatever — that's not really the point here.”

The film, however, received a mixed reception from the critics gathered at Cannes.

The film’s detractors claimed that ‘Paradise:Love’ was reproducing the very same exploitation of Africans it claims to examine. The Hollywood Reporter dismissed it as “a psychologically empty wallow”.

Others, however, praised the actors, lauding the bravery required to act out the demanding sex scenes.

“It wasn't easy, it's true,” said Tiesel.

“It was a challenge to surpass yourself, to go beyond your comfort zone. But in the beginning Ulrich said to me: 'Nothing will happen that you don't want to happen.' So that reassured me.”