▶︎ Patrick is in select UK cinemas and on digital platforms including many revenue-share virtual cinema screenings.
The first feature of Belgian director Tim Mielants (whose previous work includes Series 3 of Peaky Blinders) is a study of grief. We see its lead character, Patrick (Kevin Janssens), progress through Mielants’s version of the five stages of the emotion: denial, anger, paranoia, depression and acceptance. But even though his father dies during the course of the action, it’s not a parent the 38-year-old is mourning – but a lost hammer.
Semi-autistic, taciturn and tubby (Janssens put on almost 20kg for the role), glumly detached even when a woman’s having enthusiastic sex on top of him, Patrick might initially appear unsympathetic.
But as the hero of this offbeat, melancholic comedy, straightfacedly set in a naturist camp in the Ardennes, he soon comes to seem no more than mildly abnormal – just as, after a few minutes, the sight of people roaming about with their genitalia on display no longer seems strange. Not least because several of them exhibit traits rather more outré than a mere lack of clothes: Dustin Apollo (Jemaine Clement), the self-satisfied singer astounded Patrick doesn’t know his name; scheming resident Herman (Pierre Bokma), quiveringly eager to take over the site; Herman’s wife Liliane (Ariane van Vliet), not only cheating on him with Patrick but sternly refusing to refill his breakfast coffee-cup until it’s totally empty. These and other slyly sketched individuals make for a diverting mix.
Prowling around locations with long roaming takes, Mielants’s camera repeatedly returns to the crucial lacuna: the central gap in the seven-hammer display case from which Patrick’s prized implement is missing.
But once Patrick finds himself able to weep for his irreplaceable loss (whether for dad, his hammer, or possibly both?), it’s as if other emotional avenues are opening up, and for the first time we see, like a break in the clouds, the faintest hint of a smile curve his lips.
Filmed with a shrewd, teasing balance of mockery and compassion, Patrick often takes us by surprise with a depth of feeling that would have been hard to predict from its opening satirical thrust.
Dogs Don’t Wear Pants review: a compassionate story of the healing power of kink
By Anton Bitel
Preaching about the perverted: sadomasochistic romance on screen
By Anna Bogutskaya
Sign up for Sight & Sound’s Weekly Film Bulletin and more
News, reviews and archive features every Friday, and information about our latest magazine once a month.