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VISIONS DU RÉEL 2021 Competition

Review: Holgut


- Belgian director Liesbeth De Ceulaer presents a mysterious yet powerful documentary offering an unexpected journey into the heart of the Siberian tundra

Review: Holgut

After a lengthy period of observation, research and film development which lasted upwards of eight years, Liesbeth De Ceulaer is presenting her latest documentary Holgut [+see also:
interview: Liesbeth De Ceulaer
film profile
in a world premiere within the Visions du Réel Festival’s International Competition, as well as in CPH:DOX's Next:Wave Award line-up. Surrounded, and sometimes almost cradled, by the glacial chill of Eastern Siberia, Holgut’s protagonists seem to spin on a rope between the past and the present, between nature and science. What part do human beings play in the process of animal extinction? And most importantly, what impact does the extinction of certain animal species have on the lives of human beings? Liesbeth De Ceulaer tackles these questions without attempting to offer up dogmatic answers rooted in linear and pseudoscientific reasoning. Instead, she takes us on a poetic albeit frightening journey into the entrails of the Earth, where the ruins of a glorious past re-emerge to confront us with our weaknesses and contradictions.

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As the permafrost melts in the heart of the Siberian tundra, revealing the remains of vanished animals such as mammoths, the wild reindeer which have, over time, gained almost mythological status begin their slow and sorrowful walk towards extinction. Roman and his younger brother Kyym - both originally hailing from the region, although the latter has lived in the city with his mother for many years now - decide to set out in search of these mysterious animals. Meanwhile, not too far from there, scientist Semyon is scouring the permafrost in search of mammoth DNA traces in the hope of one day successfully cloning these creatures. In the midst of a global, natural catastrophe not too far removed from a mass extinction, mammoth tusks are attracting adventurers of all kinds who are rushing headlong into unbridled ivory hunts. And to amplify the enormity of the situation, a new legend – that of wild reindeer – now seems to be taking hold. In spite of themselves, and despite being driven by different motivations, hunters Roman, Kyym and Semyon find themselves trapped in a glacial climate which appears to be changing right before their very eyes. Indeed, the journey they’ve embarked upon changes at the same rate as nature itself, confronting them with an often-cruel reality which is impossible to escape.

Holgut blends key characteristics of fiction and documentary in unexpected fashion, turning reality into poetry, daily life into adventure. Through the eyes of the three protagonists, the legend (whether relating to mammoths or wild reindeer) comes to permeate reality, altering it profoundly and impacting our “certainties”. Paradoxically, in the face of increasingly radical climactic change, society seems intent on seeking out its “wild” inner soul, reconnecting with nature and reforging ties with a land now covered in cement. Through Liesbeth De Ceulaer’s lens, the Siberian tundra becomes a theatre of our own (in)humanity, a mysterious and impenetrable destination where ghosts of the past and human weakness coexist in surprisingly beautiful fashion.

Holgut is produced by Belgium’s Minds Meet and co-produced by Stempel, with international sales in the hands of Filmotor (Prague).

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(Translated from Italian)

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