Borderlands (Zev Berman, 2007): 6.5/10

The Magic Flute (Ingmar Bergman, 1975): 7/10

La Guerre Est Finie (Alain Resnais, 1966): 7/10

Speed Racer (The Wachowski Brothers, 2008): 8/10

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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Calvaire (Fabrice du Welz, 2004)

Calvaire is being billed as the French response to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and I agree with that assessment. Both films deal with the "personal terror" and take place at a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, from which it looks as if there's no escape. But Calvaire is a single man's story, told with a minimum of dialogue and more complex social situations. In the end, I ended up more terrified by the strange happenings and religious allegory in Calvaire than anything in TCM.

Marc Stevens, played very believably by Laurent Lucas, is a singer whose career is probably stalled, as we see him performing at a retirement home. The first few scenes show an elderly woman and a nurse throwing themselves at Marc, and him bitterly rejecting them both. These sexual rebuttals become fascinating in the context of the rest of the story, but that's for later. Marc's van breaks down in the woods, he ends up staying at Bartel's inn, and becomes his captive. But not only is Marc Bartel's captive, everyone in the town thinks Marc is Gloria, Bartel's wife (and another character's lover) who left him several years ago. Marc is subjected to sexual torture, as well as physical, emotional, and mental torture, not only at the hands of Bartel, but at those of the townspeople as well.

Calvaire is filled with homages to other films, including TCM, but also Deliverance and Straw Dogs. Instead of coming off as a retread, Calvaire is a new and fresh kind of horror tale. It's not overly gory (although there are several scenes of intense violence), but it gets in your brain and won't let go. Lucas as Marc is one of my favorite horror heroes in recent memory, as it's not often that we get a single male victim (I really appreciated that it wasn't a screaming, busty female for once), and also a victim who alternately lays on the ground and sobs and fights viciously for his life. I could really relate to Marc, and really thought he reacted the way I would have. Not only is the hero-character a refreshing change, the amount of religious allegory in the film makes it head and shoulders intellectually above most other horror movies. Calvaire, while literally translates to "ordeal," is a French word that refers to the journey one must take to be crucified. Marc is literally and figuratively crucified in the movie, and the open-ended ending obviously leads to the parallels of Marc to Jesus. Looking back, the whole film can be read as a Christian allegory.

One of my only complaints with Calvaire is that Phillippe Nahon (one of my favorite creepy guys ever) has too small of a part. He does factor in greatly in the last third of the movie, but could have used a bit more meat on his part. Calvaire is one of the best horror/thriller films I've seen in a while, and certainly one that made me think more than one I've seen in a long time. Don't go in expecting a gore-fest, however, as this is a character-driven, personal thriller.


RIYL: High Tension, Straw Dogs

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Comments on "Calvaire (Fabrice du Welz, 2004)"


Blogger Jenna said ... (7:35 AM) : 

I've been waiting for you to see this foreverrrr. Great review and you're so right about Nahon - it would have been a bit of a departure for him but I think he could even have pulled off playing Bartel.


Blogger dana danger said ... (11:44 AM) : 

I think he could have, too! But you were right about the pub scene, it was so creepy and out there that it just made the whole thing even scarier.


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