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TRIBECA 2024

Review: Hunters on a White Field

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- Swedish writer-director Sarah Gyllenstierna’s feature debut boasts a standout lead performance by Ardalan Esmaili but wobbles in its crucifixion of masculinity

Review: Hunters on a White Field
l-r: Jens Hultén, Ardalan Esmaili and Magnus Krepper in Hunters on a White Field

Good things never happen in the woods. This time, it’s three men on a hunting trip in remote Sweden, where deer heart is a delicacy known to wealthy white men looking to bring a young, non-white Swede into the patriarchal fold. Based on Mats Wägeus’ novel Jakt pa ett vitt fält, whose translation shares a rough definitional equivalent with its English title, Sarah Gyllenstierna’s feature debut, Hunters on a White Field [+see also:
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, attempts to tackle masculinity run amok with a dash of mysterious, and perhaps magical, events. The film has enjoyed its international premiere in the Tribeca Film Festival’s International Narrative Competition.

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Alex (Ardalan Esmaili) joins his work superior Greger (Magnus Krepper) and Greger’s friend Henrik (Jens Hultén) on a hunting trip in a remote forest. The latter two, who are older, white Swedes, view the excursion as an opportunity to embrace their toxic masculine – and, later, casually racist – energy: “It’s more like sex,” says Henrik about big-game hunting, in his objectification of both women and animals. Although slightly out of place at first, Alex begins to adopt their perspective while starting to see unusual sights in the woods, understanding the older men’s desire to be close to their downed prey. After all of the animals mysteriously disappear one day, leaving no creatures to be hunted, the men make a collective decision that becomes the ultimate test of their façades of machismo, each too proud to back down.

The three men are the movie’s only characters. But clearly clinching the title of standout performance is Tehran-born Swedish actor Esmaili, whose bearded face could help him pass as a Clooney doppelgänger from even a close distance. Switching seamlessly between a certain inflated confidence, shaking with fear, and convulsing from disgust, Esmaili brings as much life as he can muster to eager young Alex as he moves between predator and prey. But eerie moments of foreshadowing – such as Alex coughing up a bright-green caterpillar – are never fully brought to fruition in the later parts, leaving the disruption of the character’s naivety underdeveloped.

With cinematography by Josua Enblom, the film’s most visually intriguing moments are its sweeping hunting sequences, which multiply the tension between the hunters right through to the very end of the picture. The trio’s many trials of masculinity are complemented by an eerie score from Ola Fløttum, which screams psychological thriller with even a hint of horror. But the meat of the story only happens in the last third, with the first hour focused mainly on the posturing banter between each man attempting to one-up the others. As a result, the filmmaker’s topical critique of patriarchy, hierarchy and conformity ends up being rather one-dimensional. It’s hunt or be hunted, says Gyllenstierna (quite literally, in the dialogue as well) – but the motivations to hunt at all are left up in the air.

Hunters on a White Field is a production by Swedish outfit MostAlice Film, co-produced by Film i Väst. Its international sales are handled by LevelK.

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