Calvaire (2004, Fabrice Du Welz)

AKA The Ordeal. A single young dude, Marc Stevens, is a traveling, singing showman for old folks’ homes. His van breaks down somewhere (movie was shot in Belgium, France and/or Luxembourg) and he stays with Bartel, the Paul Giamatti-looking innkeeper. But Bart is way crazy, destroys Marc’s van, dresses Marc up as his ex-wife Gloria and threatens bloody revenge if “she” ever runs off again. Marc runs off, gets caught by villagers (sharing the delusion that Marc is Gloria) who rape him, gets re-caught by Marc who crucifies him, escapes again and gets his leg caught in an animal trap, and so on. It’s tough going for Marc until the townsfolk attack Bartel’s place and Bart is killed by a just-as-crazy Malcolm McDowell-looking guy. Marc runs off, pursued by Malcolm who sinks into the swamp. The end, although Marc is far from safe and sound, all hurt and hungry in a swamp with villagers possibly still looking for him. Also, as a side-suspense, a man named Boris is looking for his dog.

Marc watches Malcolm drown

This one goes less for sustained tension/suspense than Them did, more for bizarre WTF-horror. It’s an ugly, somewhat effective little film… good enough that I could give his next movie, another rural-horror starring Emmanuelle BĂ©art and Rufus Sewell, a shot. No music except for a piano tune played during a Bartel’s visit to a Bela Tarr tavern. I guess the message here is “don’t stray outside the city and get lost in rural areas”, a message that has been well hammered home by previous horror movies.

Bartel seems like a nice guy deep down

Laurent Lucas, who did a fine job as terrorized Marc (except that when he’s most afraid, he kinda looks like he’s drunkenly grinning) was in mysterious films Pola X and In My Skin. Boris, who finally finds his dog, was in Luc Besson’s Taxi 4 last year. The dangerously deluded innkeeper appeared in Olivier Assayas’s Cold Water. And the cinematographer shot suspense films Joshua, Day Night Day Night and Irreversible.

Interviewer: “How do you think female viewers will react to Calvaire?”
Director: “Well, I realise my film could go over badly, even very badly. Though personally, I really think the film is feminist. It is a brutal work, like Deliverance or Straw Dogs, for example.”