13 June 2024

Film Review – Patrick (2019)

Nudity in cinema dates as far back as the late 19th century – created of course by a Frenchman, later to become the world-renowned filmmaker, George Méliès. Erotica had its major cinematic breakthrough in the early 20th century thanks to the help of another French cinema elitist, the Pathè brothers.

Tired of the obvious French dominance of showing nudity within film, albeit erotic or naturalistic, Austrian filmmaker Johann Schwarzer formed his own company which produced over 50 erotic productions between 1906 and 1911. And after what has largely ensued in a sexualisation of nudity in cinema since Saturn-Film’s reign of erotica over 100 years ago, nudity in cinema has become second nature and expected of in abundance.

The more naturalistic side of nudity however is far less utilised or applied into film as its raunchy, more sellable successor. As recent as 2016’s Captain Fantastic, when Viggo Mortensen appears on-screen letting it all hang out, a typical person’s response might be to quickly become prudish. Yet during Mortensen’s sex scene with Maria Bello in David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence from 2005, one might audibly exclaim, “Phwoah!” and feel a bit steamy afterwards. Why is that? The answer is simple and one you yourself already know the answer to. As I said, sex sells and because of that as viewers we’ve become desensitised to enormous amount of sexualised imagery we consume whether it be in films, television, music videos, animation and even video games. The vast difference of how the typical person feels and reacts to seeing flaccid genitalia on-screen as opposed to seeing a racy, stimulated sex scene is undeniably distinct.

So when I read back in 2019 that Belgian TV director Tim Mielants‘ feature-length debut was to be about a film focusing on a nudist campsite, I was fascinated to see how myself and spectators might react to such a outwardly outlandish and radical concept.

Fast-forward to the present day in 2022, UK specialist distributor Anti-Worlds have just released a limited edition Blu-ray of Mielants‘ debut, Patrick.

As the titular character, Partick stars Kevin Janssens as a 38-year-old handyman who stills lives with his parents at their rural naturist campsite. When a hammer goes missing from his collection, Patrick’s quest soon unravels leading to a much bigger mystery than theft of a treasured tool.

The film starts in the idyllic Ardennes region of Belgium, immediately hurling its audience into the unconcealed nudism of Patrick which is very much in the foreground. Here, we first meet Janssens character, a shy, humble overweight middle-aged man with an eyecatching haircut that echoes the infamous bowl cut of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber. He, his blind mother and elderly father live and work at the nudist haven, which is very  obviously rife with naturists living their best lives in nothing but their birthday suits. Through the pleasantries and close relationships that course throughout the haven, it seemingly operates as a wholesome community, embracing their shared clothes-free advocacy. Patrick however seems less inclined to be as comfortable with this way of life
and is established as a bit of black sheep among the community.

As 98% of the actors on-screen are nude or wearing scant, minimal clothing that doesn’t cover their genitals, the nudity in Patrick isn’t at all sexualised, rather candid. It isn’t a crude, suggestive or particularly risqué. It portrays and showcases a cultural movement that highlights having comfortability within oneself and the uniqueness of the human body. Coupled with Frank van den Eeden’s warm and gorgeous cinematography, every varying shape and size of body and privates have summer and autumnal glows to them. The golden shades of browns, oranges and greens paint the Ardennes as a Garden of Eden.

As someone who thoroughly enjoys and has a natural talent for carpentry outside of helping with the family business, when the moment comes where one of Patrick’s hammers goes missing, the tone quickly shifts into that of existential anxiety for Patrick and looming dread. You can see the frustration gradually begin to build within Patrick as he obsessively ponders what may have happened to his cherished apparatus. The absence of even one of many proves to be a hurdle among his true desire to sculpt and create beautiful woodwork and furniture. Carpentry is his escape from the mundanity of the tourist attraction and those who mock and don’t take him seriously.

Shortly after the mystery of his vanishing hammer, Patrick is hit with the untimely bereavement of his father. And while a shock to those within the campsite, Patrick at first however seems unfazed. His mind is elsewhere, still focusing on the disappearance of his hammer. While others sob and share their condolences in the news of Rudy passing away, Patrick is in a world of his own, avoiding any real responsibility or compassion. He deliberately unacknowledging the tragic occurrence.

Throughout his obsessional pursuit in the runtime, Patrick sees spells of rib-tickling absurdism, more melodramatic tones and it even reaches a point of becoming a dark and menacing thriller at one stage. All these genre ranges are masterfully encompassed under the umbrella of a tragicomedy from writer-director Mielants alongside co-writer Benjamin Sprengers. The switch between the weirdo woo the film emits and also its emotional depth in the later portion of the film is similar to that of a Quentin Dupieux flick or Sacha Baron Cohen‘s iconic character Borat, idiosyncratic but still charming and diverse. Thanks to the unwavering nudity throughout, there is even a bathroom fight scene similar to that hysterical naked brawl between Borat and Azamat that reaches almost the same level of outlandishness…and flailing genitalia. Patrick is a future cult classic, no doubt.

Across the board, everyone Patrick is magnificent in their role. Particularly Janssens as Patrick who has an almost OCD-level of chronic compulsiveness to find his beloved hammer. Even during Patrick darkest hours, he will retaliate with bleak, despondent replies like, “I lost my hammer”. However, in the latter section of Mielants‘ film, Janssens’ conveyance shifts as Patrick finally accepts his hammer is an indefinite goner and allows the grief, loss and trauma of losing his father to flow through him. In a brief amount of the runtime, Janssens puts on a masterclass of emotional range as Patrick veers from blissful ignorance to painful embrace, closing the film with a breakneck quick shot of Patrick binning his remaining hammers accepting without one, they are incomplete.

Jemaine Clement in his appearance as the narcissistic, sleazy rock star, Dustin Apollo is also exquisite. Clement‘s presence is minor, subtle and yet utterly hilarious. The man is tremendously charming in whatever he pops up in and ends up with one of the standout scenes during the runtime where he declares to Patrick, “Sometimes to get what you want, you have to not want what you want”. And while it is a bit daft in its delivery, the significance and philosophy behind that quote is relatable to the films central character but also its audience. We have all wanted something that was simply unobtainable until one day when it may have finally materialised when we least expected it.

Patrick on the surface is a quirky, offbeat Belgian black comedy with lots of willies and nunnies to get prissy over seeing. Nudity aside however, lies a much deeper, richer and wonderfully touching film about how we as humans deal with loss, our varying peculiarities and being happy with who you are.

Comedy, Drama | Belgium, 2019 | 18 | Blu-Ray | 10th January 2022 (UK) | Anti-World Releasing | Dir.Tim Mielants | Kevin Janssens, Katelijne Damen, Hannah Hoekstra

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