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2018 CEUFF: Gutland

March 11, 2018

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“Sometimes it’s necessary”

 

Perhaps the best thing about Chicago’s annual European Union Film Festival is that it exposes a diverse, moviegoing city to an entirely different style of film. Many of the films I saw at last year’s festival are still with me, and if the first film I saw from this year’s festival is any indication, Chicago is in for another great festival year.

“Gutland” is a noirish mystery from Luxembourg that is what I would deem a distinctly European film. Were an American director to tackle this same story, the film would likely end with one of the supporting characters sitting the protagonist down and explaining to him – and, by proxy, the audience – the meaning behind everything they had just witnessed. Thankfully that’s not the case, and this feature-length debut from director Govinda Van Maele (from a screenplay he co-wrote with script doctor, Razvan Radulescu) is allowed to remain enigmatic up to its final frame.

When a mysterious drifter named Jens (Frederick Lau) arrives in a sleepy village on foot, most of the locals turn their noses up at the vagrant-looking man. However, their attitude toward the young man changes for the better after he sleeps with the mayor’s daughter Lucy (Vicky Krieps). If that sounds like a reverse of what you’d normally expect to happen, you’re not alone in questioning the motives of the townsfolk. Whatever it is that Jens is running from must be substantially worse than a town willing to embrace and indoctrinate the young man into their way of life.

The film’s first two acts are filled with a creeping dread, thanks to some gorgeously voyeuristic camera work by Narayan van Maele. That dread eventually suffuses itself into the film’s climax which leaves the audience to reach its own conclusions, as this film is clearly not interested in holding their hands. It doesn’t all come together in a wholly satisfying way, but the conclusion works well enough as a compliment to the film’s stunningly brilliant first hour. Couple that with a pair of brilliant lead performances by Lau and Krieps – the latter of whom is coming off a remarkable performance in “Phantom Thread” – and you’ve got a pretty damn good film that doesn’t succumb to that deadly impulse to explain everything.

 

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RATING: ***

 

“Gutland” played today at 5:15pm and will be shown again at the Gene Siskel Film Center on Tuesday, March 13th at 7:45pm. For tickets, click here.

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