“A stranger wends through twilit wheat fields in the exquisite opening moments of Govinda Van Maele’s fiction feature debut [starring Phantom Thread’s Vicky Krieps] … By the following morning he’s courted by an elder who finds him a gig and lodging—and then Gutland quietly maunders from folktale to pastoral noir to Polanski-esque uncanny and, finally, back to folk tale. Call it a ‘village film,’ with an eerie ambiance of secrets, insularity and sinister solidarity.” —José Teodoro
"A man with a secret hides out in a place with a secret in this intriguing debut from Luxembourg. […] Handsomely shot on 35mm, the photography has a pleasing visual rhythm. The frame is frequently carved into sections: by reflections, by the frame of a bus stop and, in one of the most chilling sequences, by rows of maize in which Jens finds himself threatened. The same landscape, shot at different times of the day, and the season, takes on an unknowably mercurial character. And the country nights are fringed with the kind of inky darkness that could swallow a character whole, like the slurry pit which provides such an ominous motif throughout the picture."
- SCREEN DAILY: "‘Gutland’: Review"
[Gutland] fascinatingly blurs the line between fantasy and reality, from the eerie intro all the way through to a surprise finale that raises goosebumps. […] The scariest run through a cornfield since Cary Grant outraced a plane in North by Northwest.
THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: "‘Gutland’: Film Review | TIFF 2017"
[Gutland] recalls The Stepford Wives by way of David Lynch, but replaces any struggle between good and evil with evil’s unchecked prevalence. Bad men become redeemable as good people prove to be monsters. And before it’s over we’re left to wonder if two wrongs do make a right. This duplicity is necessary for success and a credit to Van Maele’s handle on his aesthetic. There’s something about the pastoral calm of farmland hiding dark emotional secrets that excels.
THE FILM STAGE: "Gutland TIFF 2017 Review"
Alongside a fluid ensemble of performances, Van Maele cleverly deceives the viewers’ presuppositions of the film’s tone. It is never a jarring, dichotomic semblance of mood, but one that steadily evolves from melancholy to that of pensive misfortune and lunacy. From there, a brilliant score swells and swimmers as the plot progresses; thus, enhancing this anxiety-filled experience of “Gutland.”
THE PLAYLIST: "‘Gutland’: A Familiar, But Striking Noir [TIFF Review]"
Upon first impression, Gutland seems like a rustic but warm film about life in the European countryside; its assured cinematography equally sensitive to the particularities of 35mm when shooting the vast and shimmering wheat fields as it is in its dim but sultry domestic spaces. Yet little by little, the film’s air of social realism is distorted with touches of surrealism, as the sinister histories of both the town and its newcomer start to reveal themselves. As it turns out, the only way for Jens to avoid being found by the shades of his past is for him to “be found”— in the spiritual sense—and embrace this new identity he is being coerced into.
By shooting on 35mm film and on location, the director and his DoP, his brother Narayan Van Maele, have created a film that masquerades as a slow-burning documentary, where fantasy intrudes at random and unexpected moments, just like the hero does. Gutland could be a fable rooted in Central European tradition, where reality is far more horrifying.
CINEUROPA: "Gutland: Adapt or be expelled"
Mysterious, metaphysical, and shrouded in shadows, Govinda Van Maele's feature debut GUTLAND lives up to the unlikely tag of "surrealist rural noir." […] Featuring a small town with an undertow of clandestine sexuality, and characters whose identities morph gradually, almost imperceptibly, throughout, the film plays like Lynch's BLUE VELVET crossed with Kiarostami's CERTIFIED COPY. […] GUTLAND offers an ingenious parable for the immigrant experience of melting into a new culture—potent both as metaphor and mystery. It also works as a satire of conformity, domestication, and the spirit of nativism on the rise in the EU (as well as in the US), as well as what we might conceive of as the red/blue—here the provincial/urban—divide.
Nous n’en dévoilerons évidemment pas la nature mais le brillant climax, ironique et cruel, parvient à surprendre et à donner la chair de poule comme le faisaient autrefois les meilleurs récits concoctés par Rod Serling ou Richard Matheson. Le réalisateur s’amuse à jouer avec la perception du réel, à brouiller les pistes et à faire subir à son héros, dont la transformation progressive atteint son paroxysme lors d’une scène finale étonnante, un mémorable lavage de cerveau. Reste à savoir si la victime n’est pas consentante dans une certaine mesure, résignée à laisser son identité au vestiaire afin de jouir des richesses offertes par ses bourreaux. La métamorphose graduelle, physique et psychologique, de cet homme sans cesse soumis à la tentation, est l’un des aspects les plus fascinants de cette réussite inattendue.