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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Review: Patrick


- An engaging dark comedy about grief and a missing hammer

GoCritic! Review: Patrick
Kevin Janssens in Patrick

An early breakout in the Crystal Globe competition at Karlovy Vary this year, Tim MielantsPatrick [+see also:
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is an engaging dark comedy about Belgian nudists dealing with loss, new leadership and a missing hammer. Regardless of how it fares with the jury, the Belgian production will undoubtedly thrive during and after the festival season, finding an audience in Europe’s arthouses.

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Co-written with Benjamin Sprengers, Patrick is the first feature-length film of Mielants who only recently segued from television having previously worked on British hit Peaky Blinders (2016) and AMC chiller anthology The Terror (2018). His picture plays with different genres, moving between comedy, drama and thriller in the most refreshing manner, with Peter Flamman’s ominous sound-design occasionally inclining towards some elements of horror. The film smartly balances humour with heavier themes of life, such as grief and existential crises; it does this while making the sole focus of the story the bizarre object of a hammer, a tool that carries a deeper metaphorical meaning.

Patrick (Kevin Janssens), 38, is an introverted, laid-back and slightly unambitious guy, still living with his parents in a naturist camp run by his sick father. His modest life hardly knows any responsibilities, as it revolves around work at the camp’s reception, woodwork and having an occasional sexual encounter with the much older wife of a camp resident. But this slow and quiet existence of a man whose biggest passion in life is making furniture butt-naked, suddenly turns around when his father dies – and a hammer in the tool-shed mysteriously goes missing.

Patrick is immediately thrown into the role of his father’s successor, as the oddball camp regulars expect him to run the place, making sure they get the plots they want and putting out fires when arguments among them break out. In the case of Patrick – a modest man who does not seem to aim high in life and is perfectly content with what he has – his nakedness only further indicates his overall goodness and vulnerability. He is a man of few words who seems to be living in perfect symbiosis with his natural surroundings. This is something which the visuals of the film allude to via cinematographer Frank van den Eeden’s “earthy” palette of predominantly green and brown tones.

The other guests seem to share some peculiarities with Patrick; they are eccentrics who dedicate their life to being naked – an element of this film that, although ever-present, is never sexualised or cheaply used for comedic purposes. Yet they also seem to be self-centred, scheming and dishonest; “wolves in sheeps’ clothing”… if they actually wore any clothes.

Hungry for power and ownership of the camp, as they consider Patrick’s gentle character too weak for the job, one resident of the camp in particular goes through great lengths to manipulate Patrick into giving up his property. All the while Patrick is still frantically looking for his lost hammer; an object onto which all his grief is transferred, as he is unable to cope with his loss in any other way.

Mielants’ direction has an imaginative and creative feel, as it compellingly plays with camera movements and peculiar angles that keep the flow of the film’s offbeat, situational humour going – even when the story’s darkest moments hit. This is brought to its peak in a bizarre and dynamic fight scene in one of the camp’s trailers; a fight that perfectly combines the brutality of the sequence with comic punches based almost entirely on camera-choreography and the three protagonists involved, as it includes almost no dialogue.

While the ending does not come across quite as strong as the rest of the film, there is still something cathartic about seeing Patrick finally reaching the point where he can cry – about his father and about the hammer that will now forever stay out of his reach.

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