- Urlich Thomsen's second feature examines the clash between a German sausage maker and American bigotry
It is difficult to try and define Gutterbee [+see also:
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film profile], the second feature directed by Danish actor-turned-filmmaker Urlich Thomsen. The film is a satire, a broad comedy and a drama about racism and sausages and which, set in a decaying American small town, also flirts with the neo-western. Gutterbee is having its European premiere in the Official Competition of the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, a month after its world premiere at the Sao Paulo International Film Festival.
Sheriff Brown (Chance Kelly) assumes the role of the on-screen narrator and takes us through the events that unfolded in the titular small town of the American Southwest. It all began when the local racist bully, Jimmy Jerry Lee Jones Jr (played by W Earl Brown), who fancies himself the town's boss, ran out of enemies to harass and turned his attention to calm German sausage maker and scholar Edward Hofler (Scottish actor Ewan Bremner), a man determined to open a sausage restaurant called Gourmet House of Refuge in a defunct chapel he bought in town. Jimmy hates everything foreign, including foreign people and foreign food. He actually uses Donald Trump’s slogan America First as a greeting and blindly trusts his rooster's paranormal skills in sensing the foreigner in town. Nobody actually likes Jimmy and nobody cares for his world-view, but no one dares stand up to him, knowing that he is supported by the town's greedy evangelical priest (Clark Middleton). That is, until Edward refuses to abandon his projects and leave. Besides the sheriff, who remains more or less passive, the film also shares with the the point of view of another character, Mike (Antony Starr), a hustler and Jimmy's former henchman who became Edward's new business partner after returning from prison, and who tries to be a mediator before the confrontation turns nasty. And after a few incidents, it sure does…
The central problem with Gutterbee is that writer-director Thomsen seems unsure about what he is aiming for: a comedy ranging from laugh-out-loud to gross-out to simply bizarre; a satire; an examination of a social landscape of rural Americana; a drama about racism, a statement against it or something completely different. The film is filled with a gallery of characters each only defined by one or two quirks, and the story occasionally drifts away in many subplots which tend to go nowhere and only serve to pass the time or to score a laugh or two, when the general plot of the film does not simply move back and forth between one conflicted party and the other.
The cast, consisting of mainly anglophone actors from the ranks of indie films and television, has the difficult task of finding and maintaining the right blend of weirdness and caricature that best suits their characters. But the real issue is that everyone has to do so individually and on their own, since there is no clear lead character. As a former actor, Thomsen should be able to communicate exactly what he wants from his cast, yet he does not seem to do that, for whatever reason: could it be a lack of interest, a lack of directorial skill or simply the absence of any basic idea for what to do with all these characters.
On the other hand, Gutterbee is not a hard watch. It is easy, breezy and, ultimately, fun, with Edward’s lectures about history and about various types of sausage types being the highlights of the film, alongside with the way the film slams the evangelical right for their greed or bigotry. It is also very nice to look at — thanks to Anthony Dod Mantle's (Antichrist [+see also:
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film profile]) cinematography in vivid, summery colours — and to listen to, with most of the songs on the soundtrack adding another layer of humour to proceedings.
Gutterbee is a Danish production by Pro Tempore Film.
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