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NAMUR 2023

Review: Clenched Fists


- Belgian filmmaker Vivian Goffette presents a drama told from a child’s perspective, which brings certain issues into a very topical spotlight

Review: Clenched Fists
Laurent Capelluto and Yanis Frisch in Clenched Fists

Vivian Goffette has unveiled his second feature, Clenched Fists [+see also:
interview: Vivian Goffette
film profile
, as a world premiere at the Namur International French-language Film Festival, in the FIFF Première section. After having turned heads in 2013 with his feature debut, Yam Dam, an unexpected love story between a gentrified vet wallowing in the monotony of his existence and a young Burkinabé woman in search of a better life, the Belgian filmmaker is back with a drama told from a child’s perspective, which brings certain issues into a very topical spotlight.

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How do you construct yourself as a person when you’re the child of a monster? Lucien (Yanis Frisch) is a lonesome and quiet little boy. He lives withdrawn from the world and from others, as if burdened by his difference, existing in a vacuum with his mother and his big brother. The death of his grandmother on his father’s side will trigger a shock wave that will turn his day-to-day life upside down. Her funeral is a very tense and volatile affair. The police and the media jostle for space at the cemetery gates. The fact is that the deceased is none other than the mother of public enemy number one – a child killer who is Lucien’s father. Said father (Laurent Capelluto), ripped out of photo albums, has been erased from the family’s history. But while the act of forgetting allows his mother (Lucie Debay) and his brother (Paulo Schmit) to overcome the ordeal afflicting their family, it’s far from a solution for Lucien, who can no longer bear either the absence or the secret.

Overwhelmed by all the hatred directed at his father, Lucien decides to see him again, much against the advice of his mother, who made the decision to completely break off all ties. He wants to believe in his dad’s sincere remorse. He can’t bring himself to be merely an alibi for him. This status of being a good, loving father, which he asserts in order to atone for his crimes, is what Lucien would like to see for himself in the flesh. He wants to behave like a son in order to have a father. It is then that an inescapable process of manipulation is set in motion.

Can one separate a man from his crimes? Clenched Fists looks through the lens of a realist tale as it tackles this ultra-modern issue, and provides an unequivocal response. The story is told from a child’s point of view. It’s through Lucien’s eyes that we come to understand the question of wickedness and all its illusory sincerity. Armed only with his need for love and for a father-son connection, Lucien falls into his controlling clutches. The story of the child and the ogre plays out again before our very eyes.

To put flesh on the bones of this story, it was crucial to find the right performers. Young Yanis Frisch, for whom this is the first screen role, is perfectly convincing, conveying through his restraint all of the hesitations and the lack of understanding that underpin his character. Laurent Capelluto, who grapples with the role of the monster, walks a tightrope, where it’s all about making his seduction of the young Lucien believable, while leaving no doubt in the viewer’s mind as to his intentions. There is no dramatic irony in the relationship that takes shape between the two. It's clear from the start that Lucien is walking into the lion’s den, and what’s more, his mother expresses her reservations straight away. The film’s aim is not to explore the grey areas of the killer or his flaws, but rather to lead us on the journey of a child who must grieve for his relationship with his father. The narrative’s head-on approach may frustrate some, as it immediately gives away all of the keys needed to interpret the outcome of the young hero’s voyage. But the actors’ performances nevertheless allow us to accompany this coming-of-age process brought on prematurely by events.

Clenched Fists was produced by Dragon Films and Lunanime. It will be distributed in Belgium by Lumière and is slated for release on 14 February 2024.

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(Translated from French)

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