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TIFF 2017: ‘Gutland’ Is A Surrealist Crime Story

‘Gutland’ explores the darkness percolating beneath a bucolic small-town facade.

'Gutland' explores the darkness percolating beneath a bucolic small-town facade.

There’s a simple premise driving Gutland’s plot: a stranger, a small town, and a bag full of money. It’s a scenario we’ve watched play out since the days when movie tickets cost a nickel. Director Govinda Van Maele turns the genre’s overused tropes on their head, and crafts something unique: a surrealist potboiler with shades of film noir.

Gutland is a peculiar film. Its slow pacing, subversive narrative, and opaque themes will turn some people off right out the gate. I enjoyed the film however, wonky narrative and all, because it delivers a satisfying overall experience. Think of Gutland as a Coen brothers/David Lynch mishmash — Fargo meets Twin Peaks. A compelling narrative isn’t always conveyed through words; it can also be felt.

‘Gutland’

There is a plot, flimsy as it may be. Jens (Frederick Lau) is a wanted criminal who is on the run. He decides to lay low in a quaint little village where he repeatedly encounters peculiar locals. The mayor, for example, bestows Jens with a horn, and cajoles him into learning to read music. Whether the authorities track Jens down is less important than experiencing his sojourn. He strolls into town like a feral animal, and we have front row seats to his domestication.

Like the work of David Lynch, Gutland explores the darkness percolating beneath a bucolic small-town facade. You’ll have a much better time with this movie if you go in knowing it’s more of a mystery than a thriller; it’s unusual, but never boring. Narratively, Gutland plods along at the pace of a rusty tractor, but if you hang in, there’s a satisfying payoff both plot-wise and thematically. (Victor Stiff)

The 42nd annual Toronto International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from 7 to 17 September 2017.

Written By

Victor Stiff is a Toronto-based pop culture writer and film critic who enjoys covering the city's biggest (and nerdiest) events. Victor has covered TIFF, Hot Docs, Toronto After Dark, Toronto ComiCon, and Fan Expo Canada for publications all over the internet. You can find his latest posts on Twitter and Instagram.

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