Film Review: Tench (NZIFF 2020)

A controversial movie in that this is a sensitive portrait of a young man, Johnathan, who is physically attracted to pre-pubescent girls, and the battle he endures to keep this at bay, when a lonely ten-year-old girl moves in next door to him with her solo mum.

Director: Patrice Toye
Starring: Tijmen Govaerts, Julia Brown, Ina Geerts, Greet Verstraeta

We first meet Jonathan (Govaerts) at a judicial hearing. Although the details of why he is there are not known to us, he is told he is free to leave. There is not enough evidence to proceed with a case.

He hesitates at his mother’s house. There is much awkwardness. Jonathan is attracted to young girls, making him a paedophile. The word itself has power to invoke feelings of loathing, disgust, hatred and the wish to destroy the person, almost always a male.

Mother (Geerts) has unconditional love for her son. She wants to shelter and protect him, and also find that space where he can feel something good about himself too.

The script has been adapted from a novel Muidhond, by Inge Schilperoords. It is interesting and necessary that it is two women responsible for presenting this story. It is too taboo to allow men to do this. Paedophiles are predominantly male.

Recently a young solo mum (Verstraeta) and her ten-year-old daughter Bes (Brown) have moved in next door. Bes does not have any young friends around her. She doesn’t appear to go to school. She seems incredibly trusting towards a man she doesn’t really know. Her mother is struggling. She tends not to have much time for her daughter.

Bes is an imaginative young girl and daydreams play scenarios.  She is quickly very friendly with Jonathan and starts to include him in her play-acting.

Jonathan gets his old job back at a fish processing plant. His employer is happy to give him a second chance. As he points out, there was no court case. A young female co-worker is attracted to Johnathan, and slowly makes advances. From other male co-workers there is seething resentment.

Bes’s mother is not really focused onto her daughter. Generally, she is neglectful and pre-occupied feeling sorry for herself.

So, Bes’s friendship blossoms with Jonathan. Both of these actors give tremendous performances in these roles, but Govaerts is a standout.  He starts out as an older brother, then becomes a father-figure. Through nuanced acting we gradually see his conflict arise when his physical feelings come into play, intertwined with his genuine growing protectiveness for this neglected girl that wants affection.

Director Toye explains in a short piece, how she was intrigued by the original novel, and how it became more heart-breaking and difficult as the story went on. Johnathan is basically a decent young man, who is trying to get on with having a life. He is hard-wired to be attracted physically to young girls. He realises that this is him and he cannot change that.

His mother gets anxious and despairs but stays on his side.

Jonathan finds a way.

It will appear that I am not condemning this taboo subject.  The female makers of this movie wanted to reveal that the nature of human behaviour is not black and white. It is nuanced and has subtleties. Their aim is to try and develop a more open and honest look at this issue. They softly force us to look at the intolerable.

All I can add is my own experience of working with paedophiles within the Justice system. They are regarded as the lowest of the low by other offenders and often by their custodians. They had nowhere else to go so I helped them as best I could. We all know that their sexual orientation is hard-wired into them. There is nothing you can cure. The only issue is to not act on these impulses and channel them elsewhere.

Tench is part of the New Zealand International Film Festival, showing on line and at select theatres across the country. For online acces/ticketing information, please go HERE.

Rev Orange Peel       

TENCH – Official Trailer from Be For Films on Vimeo.