Feast exists in the liminal spaces between fact and fiction, a wholly original work that forces viewers to grapple with its themes in troubling, unexpected ways.
In 2008, three Dutchmen were accused of deliberately infecting scores of men with HIV during a series of sex parties in a crime that came to be known as the “Groningen case,” after the city in the Netherlands in which it took place. Evidence soon suggested that not only were the men invited to the parties with the goal of infecting them with HIV, but that the men were drugged and forcibly injected with HIV+ blood. It was a sensational case, one ultimately coded with homophobia and judgment toward the men who became infected, with some even suggesting that they were somehow to blame for their own infection with the virus because they were not practicing safe sex.
Tim Leyendekker‘s documentary hybrid, Feast, explores the case from radically new angles, tackling the misconceptions and prejudice surrounding it, while putting the viewer squarely in the middle of the confusion and misinformation surrounding the case. Through a series of dramatizations, interviews, mock interviews, and hazy recollections, Leyendekker creates a kind of avant-garde portrait of sexual freedom, debauchery, and sexual assault, and the places where those things sometimes overlap. Leyendekker will open on interviews with subjects that we think are the perpetrators, their faces hidden in shadow, only to stop the interview, coach the subject, then begin again, slowly raising the lights to reveal the actor underneath. The effect is jarring, almost Brechtian in its sly revealing of the filmmaking process, but one that consistently jars the audience and forces us to reframe our concept not only of the film, but of the event itself. It occasionally recalls William Greaves’ landmark documentary, Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, in its complete disregard for the “rules” of filmmaking, often ripping back the facade to reveal the inner workings of the film beneath.
But the effect here isn’t simply for show, Feast forces us to recalibrate our perception of reality, to take a deeper look at the events that gave rise to the crime at its center and examine its painful ramifications. Leyendekker seems deeply disturbed by the way in which victims were silenced or were made to feel culpable in their own assault as authorities (and the perpetrators themselves), insist that the victims should have known the risks of unprotected sex, never mind the fact that the sex isn’t how they became infected in the first place. Or was it? That there’s really no way to tell is very much the point, but are the perpetrators still responsible for their failure to disclose their HIV positive status? And why did the men continue to return to the parties if they felt unsafe? The burden of proof is heavy, no doubt, and Feast deftly, often dazzlingly, dives straight into the heart of the case’s many facets, slowly peeling back layers to reveal wholly new perspectives, be they scientific, ethical, or emotional. By blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Leyendekker has created a wholly original work of art that exists in the liminal spaces between, forcing the audience to grapple with its themes in unexpected and often troubling ways.
You can currently stream Tim Leyendekker’s Feast on Mubi.
Originally published as part of IFFR 2021 — Dispatch 4.