“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


[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.


[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. 


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.”


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.