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So, Patrick (aka De Patrick), a film set in a Belgian nudist camp about a guy who’s lost his hammer. That’s it. He’s lost his hammer and he wants to know who’s taken it. Patrick has seven hammers which normally sit on the wall in their designated slots. Now there’s a space in the middle where one of them should be, and Patrick is upset about it.

Or he would be if he showed any emotion at all, beyond a furious beetling of the brows. Patrick may be on the autism spectrum, it’s hard to say, or he might just be dealing with a long-term trauma. Either way he doesn’t go in for expressive emotion at all, just generally goes about his work as a handyman on the campsite owned by his sickly dad (Josse De Pauw) and careworn and blind mum (Katelijne Damen).

Things are coming to a head. Dad is too old to carry on with the running of the camp and mum cannot take it on. Patrick seems to be useless at everything, apart from furniture making and the occasional odd job. It’s doubtful he’s is going to be able to man up when the time comes.

That’s the situation when a catalyst arrives in the shape of a pop star, played by Jemaine Clement, and his hot girlfriend, played by Hannah Hoekstra. In what world does a pop star about to go on tour fetch up at an out-of-the-way rundown nudist camp? It makes no sense, but there they are, Dustin and Nathalie.

A second spur to action comes when there’s a family emergency and Patrick is required to step up. Instead he becomes even more obsessed with the search for his hammer, going from chalet to static caravan to tent on the site questioning the holidaymakers.

As Patrick’s doggedness pushes things unintentionally towards a violent showdown, a strange character comedy also develops, with Patrick’s complete lack of people skills the driver but not the butt of the comedy. Instead it’s the little peccadilloes of the other people on the site that are held up for ridicule – like veteran nudists Liliane (Ariane Van Vliet) and Herman (Pierre Bokma), her with her obsessive jam-making, him with his plans of mounting a coup against Patrick’s family and seizing control of the site.

Patrick meets Nathalie
Thwarted: Patrick and Nathalie

It’s a tale of stifled achievement and crushed hopes, with talented craftsman Patrick the dominant example. But there’s a lot of it about, written on the face of Liliane, for example, who gets the odd bit of mercy sex from Patrick, she bouncily enthusiastic, he just lying there and thinking of Belgium. Nathalie with her law degree, who’s wound up being both girlfriend and PA to a man who has only got time for himself. Or Wilfried (Frank Vercruyssen), whose obsession with having a particular pitch on the site speaks to a deeper lack.

The language slips from Flemish to French to English to German, depending on who’s talking, and Gert Heelings’s lithe and often beautiful soundtrack does something similar, morphing from elegant strings to chunky synths while director Tim Mielants and his DP, Frank van den Eeden, shoot everything as a warm glow, partly to blur the distinction between sunny and not-so-summery days (this is northern Europe, let’s not forget) and partly because this is a warm and fuzzy sort of movie.

As to the nudity, if you don’t like this sort of thing then this very offbeat thriller isn’t the film for you, but once you’ve adjusted to the free and easy attitude of the campers – and Mielants drops us right in it with his opening shot of Patrick naked and on his back floating out on a lake – then the pendulous breasts, big bellies, raised moles and male genitalia with nowhere to go stop being the story. Even so, Mielants likes to remind us now and again, with shots at crotch height, or of Patrick advancing towards the camera bollocks first.

Patrick is played by Kevin Janssens, a normally lean actor who bulked up on a diet of pizza, pasta and melted ice cream to play the out-of-shape Patrick. It’s a heroic turn and it bagged him a few awards at various festivals, but he should also have won one for services to self-effacement. It’s quite the turn.

Patrick – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2023

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