Directed by: #TimLeyendekker
Haunting, unnerving, unforgivably clever; Tim Leyendekker’s docufiction Feast (2021) is an intense glimpse into the price of love. Screening in the International Film Festival Rotterdam, Feast uses a real-life story as its basis: three Dutch men who held a party, drugged the guests, and infected them with their own HIV-positive blood. It’s not a film for the squeamish but it is one of the most important films screening in the IRRF; shifting between interviews with the party’s participants to fictionalised re-imaginings, personal confessions, regretful testimonies, and even a few insights from a plant biologist all come together in a disquieting quilt of footage.
Tim Leyendekker shot Feast in collaboration with a range of cinematographers; the film takes on a viral quality as it shifts, mutates, evolves into something else - from newsreel to surrealism, disbelief moves into empathy, disclosing the consequences that follow such an event. Especially compelling is a dramatisation of the three perpetrators, sat in a well-furnished living room discussing their ideas. At first, it plays like a Fassbinder movie; men framed by a static camera, talking about the nature of home, love, and death. There are some fine, detailed touches to the scene, like the Francis Bacon paintings hanging on the back wall, his flesh-smeared paintings a perfect backdrop for a conversation about masochism (resonating with John Maybury’s 1998 biopic of Bacon, Love is the Devil). As the scene plays out, it’s unsettling how much these men transform their crime into a moment of poetry. They reason that if you love someone, it’s only natural to want to share that love, viscerally embodied by one’s own blood, a blood that binds. A blood that perseveres like a passionate lover, insisting ‘I will always be there, you cannot erase me’.
Later, there’s an interview held with one of the crime’s collaborators, his face blurred out. It’s an ambiguous watch, partly because he seems shy, personable, domestic, and lulls us with romantic statements such as ‘Love is lethal but never criminal’. But things become less reasonable when he insists that nobody was abused, but wilfully passive, wilfully drugged; and that such a party was beautiful (a word choice that brings to mind Hannibal Lecter). It’s hard to discern whether such a person is actively malicious, or rather poetic to the point of crime. He isn’t trying to convince anyone else that the party was meant to be a celebration of intimacy, sharing blood like gifts, a way to connect through the virus (the ambiguity is not totally dissimilar to Tony Scott’s The Hunger, 1983, where blood is a way of binding two bodies for an eternity). Rather, he’s stating his own state of mind; he’s not preaching, influencing, or manipulating any opinion. He is merely defending his own sorry case. Here lies the strength and maturity of Leyendekker’s film. It is not preoccupied with making heroes or villains out of the event. Everyone: perpetrators, accusers, victims, are given screen time to share their thoughts.
This includes a plant biologist (Katerina Seneti) who gives us a thorough rundown of tulips. Tulips, like people, can get sick. She highlights that when a plant has a virus, the virus doesn’t want to kill the host but collaborate with it in order to survive. Even the biologist flirts with poetry, noting how the body, when sick, is aware that it’s alive, aware that it has a body. But Feast goes on to show the trauma of the event, the ruined lives of the victims; the unfortunate, unpoetic reality that love and abuse should never be confused.