Calvaire Movie Review
Marc's route to his next show takes him through the heavily forested Hautes Fagnes in Liège. It's a dark, forbidding place, a no man's land of rain drenched forests and isolated, rotting farms. When his van breaks down, Marc makes his way to the only inn nearby. It's a decided austere affair run by a former performer, the chubby and sad Bartel (played by the brilliant Jackie Berroyer). Bartel offers his humble hospitality and help in fixing the van in exchange for some company. Marc accepts. He's got no other options.
It's over a quiet dinner that Bartel's demeanor begins to change. Bartel tearily begs Marc to sing a love song. Marc grudgingly obliges and his performance is enough to convince Bartel of what Bartel has assumed all along -- Marc is his long lost wayward wife, Gloria. Bartel, now clearly deranged, won't let Gloria/Marc go a second time and he will do everything imaginable to make her stay. Marc's only hope is that the surrounding farmers will come to his rescue. But that's the rub; it seems Belgium's hillbillies are a hell of a lot less obliging than Kentucky's. The English title of Calvaire (translated as The Ordeal) hints at what's to come. And it is indeed, for all involved, an ordeal.
Calvaire is one of those rare unclassifiable films that exist at that often-unsettling intersection of black humor and horror. Like Roman Polanski's widely championed early films -- Repulsion, Knife in the Water, The Tenant -- Fabrice du Welz's Calvaire highlights the absurdities of our human condition with a gallows humor wholly lacking in current American genre cinema. If this were an American film, the monsters at the center of Calvaire would be deformed, the product of incest or radiation or chemical exposure -- anything to distance them (and their actions) from normal. But the ghouls at the heart of Calvaire are as human as you get. And that makes the film all the more frightening.
Director du Welz and co-writer Romain Protat compound horror upon horror until Calvaire climaxes in a sequence so eerie that even David Lynch would crawl under his chair. (It doesn't help that cinematographer Benoit Debie (infamous for Irreversible) is so good at capturing the swirling lunacy.) Off putting, sick, deranged -- Calvaire is a queasy descent into madness and if you've got a black sense of humor you might just find yourself laughing down the vomit.