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IFFR 2020 Voices Limelight

Review: Tench

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- Patrice Toye dares to tackle the topic of paedophilia head on, charting the inner conflict of a young man fighting his deepest, darkest thoughts

Review: Tench
Tijmen Govaerts in Tench

This week, the Voices, Limelight section of the IFFR saw Flemish director Patrice Toye present her fourth feature film, Tench [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, an adaptation of the eponymous book by Dutch author Inge Schilperoord. In this high-tension film, the filmmaker bravely broaches the question of paedophilia, exploring the inner conflict of a young man determined to overcome his urges.

“I’m afraid of being myself”, Jonathan confides. “I’m afraid of my thoughts.” On the surface, Jonathan appears to be a well-adjusted young man, somewhat shy and self-effacing. But, in reality, he has just got out of prison. Accused of paedophile activity, he is ultimately released on probation due to a lack of evidence, returning home to live with his mother. Jonathan keeps a low profile. Whilst he might seem calm on the outside, inside he’s at boiling point and he knows it. He knows his own thoughts; thoughts which haunt him, thoughts which he would love to be able to eradicate and which he is determined to prevent gaining the upper hand. But this inner struggle against his demons - a universal fight between good and bad - is upended by the irruption of a little girl into his life, who wreaks havoc on his attempts at rehabilitation.

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Elke lives alone with her mother. Just like Jonathan, she is crippled by solitude, and seems prepared to do anything in order to find a crumb of love - the type which her mother struggles to offer her. So, when she recognises Jonathan for the wounded being that he is - a young man paralysed by loneliness - she sees in him a potential soul mate. Their mutual pain collides, and this collision will call all of Jonathan’s resolutions into question.

Patrice Toye grabs the question of paedophilia with both hands and tackles it head on, ready and willing to blow the viewer’s previously held beliefs right out of the water. She observes the young man’s suffering, his good side and his bad side. Not once does the film shock by what it shows; it’s the viewer’s imagination that does all the work here.

The camera alternates between distancing itself from the character, revealing Jonathan’s struggle, and adopting a more subjective viewpoint, which creates a real sense of intimacy and helps the viewer to feel empathy for a character who is far from being portrayed as a monster. Instead, he’s painted as an anti-hero hunted down by his demons.

The film’s dramatic tension isn’t so much born out of what happens, but rather what could happen. The filmmaker keeps the audience on edge, and the latter slowly finds itself affected by the young man’s inner struggle, questioning everything it thought it knew and everything it previously thought about paedophilia. The film doesn’t absolve the disorder in any way; instead, it exposes the evil eating away at this young man at war.

A brilliant, intense and daring actor was required to play the part of Jonathan: Tijmen Govaerts, discovered in Girl [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lukas Dhont
film profile
]
. Govaerts offers up an impassive Jonathan, leaving the audience to guess at the fire consuming him from within.

Tench paints a striking, uncompromising, but, above all, unbiased portrait of a young man in pain and plagued by his demons, placing the viewer in the shoes of a paedophile without the slightest hint of sensationalism.

Unveiled at Film Fest Gent last October, the film is produced by Prime Time (Belgium), and co-produced by KeyFilm (the Netherlands) and Versus Production (Belgium), with Be For Films heading up international sales. Its Belgian release is scheduled for 29 January (Imagine).

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(Translated from French)

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