Saturday, January 9

Some quick thoughts on Calvaire (2004)

A young singer-for-hire (Marc, Laurent Lucas) traveling through the desolate French countryside breaks down while in route to a Christmas gig and is forced to stay at an empty inn with its quietly eccentric keeper (Jackie Berroyer). The old keeper seems coyly smitten with the young man and promises to get the singer's truck fixed so that he can be on his way. The only others around are a man wandering the area in search of his dog and a group of equally eccentric villagers headed up by veteran French actor Philippe Nahon. Marc soon realizes something is terribly wrong when waking to women's clothing in his room's armoire and the innkeeper setting his truck ablaze outside.

Imagine if Misery, Deliverance, Straw Dogs, and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre were pompous drivers tooling around Western Europe. Now imagine they're all involved in a four-way collision with each other. Fabrice Du Welz's Calvaire is the resulting hail of hollow insults as each stomp around and point fingers like a bunch of pricks slowing down traffic. Everyone just wants them to clear off the road so they can move on to better things. It's 88 minutes spent better invested in one of those greats, instead of Belgian director Du Welz's mildly perverse, yet annoyingly posturing thriller dead end. I'm suspecting many who fawn all over Calvaire as something worthy are either unaware of its obviously superior influences or afraid to say what they really feel so as not to be ostracized. The whole "it's foreign so it must be good but I'm just not understanding it" syndrome. Ultimately, it's just a big bullshit that's too enamored with itself to break free or even approach the quality of its many points of reference, despite being a Belgian/French/Luxemborg co-production spoken in French.

One could literally read the synopsis above and skip to just over forty minutes in and not miss a single thing--except a dose of 35mm Unisom. There's little sense of escalation to Marc's blindsided terror with Laurent Lucas being the source of the problem. The actor plays the lead with an ineffective passivity before the shit gets real and then is reduced to a whimpering fleshbag of shrieks. Who knows how a person would react in such a situation, but the faceless stranger presented in the beginning remains a stranger to the audience. Jackie Berroyer delivers the most nuanced performance as an innskeeper deeply grieving over his wife's death. Though Berroyer isn't worth the price of admission and Philippe Nahon is wasted in a minor role. The cinematography by Benoît Debie is highly praised, but it's just an onslaught of that familiar rutty, baby shit brown earth tone over competent direction. It doesn't help the Palm Pictures DVD's transfer being a botched interlaced PAL-to-NTSC conversion in all its thick 'n blurry glory.

The most interesting aspect of Calvaire is its opening with Marc crooning at a home for the elderly he's apparently been booked at for a number of consecutive years. After his performance and as he's leaving, two women seem strangely sexually desperate for him not to leave. This is unexplained and it's hard not to wonder what kind of film could have been built on that alone. One of the women is French porn and horror icon Brigitte Lahaie, acting as one of the few glimmers of interest in this whole feature. In terms of modern French (or French-related) horror, there's much better visions to conquer with your DVD player first than this half-baked mess.

1 comment:

Jay Clarke said...

Never been a huge fan of this film, but I've always put it down to my disconnection from the protagonist. Du Welz's follow-up Vinyan is a fine film though that I wholly recommend if you haven't checked it out already. you dare tread upon the staircase?

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