Govinda Van Maele’s film, Gutland, may be reminiscent of classic films such as Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven and Hitchcock’s Vertigo, but ultimately this TIFF 2017 selection fails to ever reach their levels of craftsmanship.
Jens Fauser (Frederick Lau, of the one-shot heist film, Victoria) is running away from a checkered past and finds himself as a farmhand in a small, rural village in Luxembourg. It’s not long before the locals take an interest in him, including Lucy (Vicky Krieps), who quickly beds him. Jens finds himself falling head over heels in love with the elusive Lucy, but will his past catch up with him?
From what I can tell, the plot involves a hoard of stolen money, pornographic photographs of most of the women in the village, a missing man, and a very odd corporal punishment. These ingredients could very well make for an interesting mystery/thriller, but the camera lingers on the scenic locales to the point of absurdity, deflating any momentum in telling the story.
The views of cornfields and farm labour are akin to those of Days of Heaven, and befit Maele’s previous roles as still photographer and camera operator, but, that’s all there is. Very little seems to happen – until everything happens at once. The ending of the film runs through a series of plot twists that left me lost: characters are introduced from nowhere to have a large impact in how the plot unravels and key revelations seem unearned.
A montage scene of people enjoying themselves near the end fell flat since there was no prior history with the characters in the montage. Other than the engaging Lucy, and the shaggy Jens, the other characters rarely had moments to shine and were not characterized in subtle, lasting ways. The plot twists depend on these secondary characters, and more context would have gone a long way to setting up the final act.
The ingredients for a good yarn are here: too bad Maele’s focus is on getting that perfect shot.