A surrealist rural noir about a German thief who flees to a small Luxembourg village only to discover that the locals have secrets of their own.
Govinda Van Maele
Fusing pastoral crime thriller with ancient fable, Luxembourgish writer-director Govinda Van Maele's fiction feature debut is handsome, mysterious, and spellbinding.
Gutland begins with the arrival of an outsider in the agricultural community of Schandelsmillen. Harvest season is already well underway, but Jens (Frederick Lau, last at TIFF with 2015's Victoria), a German drifter, is looking for work. He's taken on as a farmhand — and taken to bed by Lucy (Vicky Krieps), a single mother who picks him up at the village beer hall. Taciturn and solitary by nature, Jens doesn't ingratiate himself to the locals, yet they take an instant liking to him, bringing him along to parties, gifting him a trumpet, and inviting him to join the village band. Jens' first days in his new home flow by with bucolic tranquility, but over time he will begin to unearth clues to Schandelsmillen's shadowy side — just as the villagers will slowly catch on to something shady about Jens' past.
An alluring slow-burn shot on 35mm, Gutland boasts imagery with a timeless warmth, just as the score possesses a folkloric lilt that hints at sinister undercurrents. With echoes of vintage Polanski, Van Maele's story grows increasingly eerie. Rough sex, an abandoned house, and a possible conspiracy coalesce to create a dreamlike, mischievous tale of vigilante justice and unanticipated self-reinvention.