“Feast” Revisits a Dark Chemsex Crime Story

1_FEAST_©Tim Leyendekker
“Feast,” directed by Tim Leyendekker, is streaming now on MUBI.

“Feast” looks at its characters as if they’re subjects in a scientific experiment. It uses its intelligence to defuse the sensationalism from a true crime story, in which Hans (Eelco Smits), Peter (Kuno Bakker) and Wim (Koen van Kaam) drugged and infected others with HIV during chemsex parties. Director Tim Leyendekker’s style is aggressively clinical. The first section shows a woman (Trudi Klever) calmly itemize the objects used as evidence in this case. Wearing latex gloves, she pulls out and names condoms, bottles of wine and poppers, bags of Ecstasy pills, and sex toys. Her calm, detached demeanor and professional appearance wipes out this material’s titillation value.

“Feast” consists of seven sections, separated by brief interludes depicting men passed out in public. Each part was shot by a different cinematographer. The very first scene shows extreme close-ups of body parts, shot so far out of focus that they turn into abstract, unreadable blurs. The film returns to this style for its third section, a genuine interview with Hans. But it plays around with the legibility of the image. The second section, in which Hans, Peter and Wim engage in a Platonic philosophical dialogue, while their alter egos (played by the same actors) comment on them from behind a glass window, is more likely to anger spectators than any of the images in “Feast.” One section seems to carefully frame and light Peter, so that his face can’t be seen as he makes coffee and speaks to the director in his house after serving a term in prison. In its final minute, the exposure levels change that so his face is fully lit. The end credits reveal that this scene was staged with actor Oscar van der Bogard.

Leyendekker embraces the contradictions of making such a chilly movie about violent actions undertaken during an orgy. His move away from direct depiction of the actions allows the film to embrace nuance and messiness. Without ever condoning the actions of Hans, Peter and Wim, it suggests that consent exists in levels. Planning in advance to have sex with multiple partners while drunk and high obviously carries an embrace of a certain level of risk. But going through with it also implies a level of trust that other people act with your best interests at heart, and an awareness of the dangers of your desires. Being willing to take Ecstasy and have unprotected sex with a man who says he’s HIV-negative doesn’t equal consent to being drugged against your will and injected with HIV-positive blood.

“Feast” shows several different responses to this crime. Peter makes excuses for himself, saying that the victims are partially to blame. When one of them shows up at a police station to report the crime, the cops act as well as you’d expect them to behave towards a gay man assaulted at a chemsex party, treating him as though he’s a criminal on trial. But that scene, the only one which is particularly convincing as a fiction, ends with the man getting into a philosophical dialogue about the nature of knowledge with a female detective.

Leydekker engages in a very polite provocation. (Even so, the unconventional nature of “Feast” meant that it’s only received one theatrical screening in New York, at MOMA last fall, and went to streaming in the US instead.) His film takes place in a world of clean surfaces, where libido has been safely tucked away. In “Feast,” sex and violence are subjects for discourse. The most sensual scene shows a female botanist (Katerina Sareti, a real-life scientist) explaining plant vaccination, during which she injects a tulip bulb with a weak virus. This imagery recalls Robert Mapplethrope’s sexually charged flower photos. Throughout, syringes are phallic substitutes; during the sex party, Hans and Peter get a sexual pleasure from draining blood out of their own veins and injecting it into other men.

The late activist David Stuart, who coined the word “chemsex,” said that when he first started having sex with men, his anxiety and self-hatred were so strong that he could only do so while high. “Feast” skirts around the reason behind destructive behavior. Its images are mostly crystal-clear, but the closer it gets to the body, the hazier and more fragmented it becomes. In the gentrified world of recent LGBTQ-themed cinema, “Feast” points out the difficult but inescapable fact that our libidos can put us in danger and we live with ambiguous desires that may not guide us in our best interests.

“FEAST” | Directed by Tim Leyendekker | In Dutch with English subtitles | Streaming now on MUBI