CALVAIRE – The Ordeal – The Dungeon Review!

This is the first Belgium horror film I’ve reviewed on this blog and it won’t be the last. I was really impressed with Fabrice Du Welz’s first feature length directorial debut and I am officially excited to see his second film Vinyan. Calvaire was recommended to me some time ago by my friend Scott over at Anything Horror who chose this film as one of his favourites from the last decade. There are some familiar themes in Calvaire but Fabrice Du Welz definitely leaves his own unique signature. The result is a beautifully shot, biting and original horror film that will stay with you long after the credits role.

Marc Stevens is a singer who travels across the country with his act. After a gig at a nursing home he heads out for a long journey towards his next booking at a Christmas gala. He ends up lost and his van breaks down in the pouring rain. Fortunately a man wandering the area looking for his dog shows him the way to a nearby inn. Bartel, the owner of the Inn shows him to a room where he spends the night. Marc awakes the next morning to find Bartel has taken the liberty of towing his van. Unable to get a hold of a mechanic Bartel does some tinkering with the van himself to no avail. The next morning Marc awakes to find Bartel missing and discovers some disturbing clues that suggest it is Bartel’s intention to prevent his departure.

Fabrice Du Welz, like any horror director has his inspirations. He cites Hitchcock’s Psycho and Tobe Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre among others on the DVD’s special features. Let’s face it; there have been countless horror films that have been inspired by these two classic films. But I love the way he used his favourite bits. He reworks the scene from Psycho where Norman Bates makes a meal for Marion Crane and sits and watches while she eats, inserting of course, the Marc and Bartel characters. This is a fantastic scene and a buoyant yet chilling precursor to the action to come. Nothing is obvious in Calvaire. What appears to be a survival type scenario is so very much more. Bartel speaks often of his wife Gloria; a singer like Marc who he claims walked out on him. Bartel himself was formerly a comedian, but that was when Gloria was with him and he had joy in his life. It seems strange that there are no pictures of the woman he is lamenting and I had to wonder if Gloria ever existed. It is also possible that Gloria existed but may have never left. Perhaps buried on the property somewhere? Although Gloria herself remains a mystery, she is the force that drives the films action. Calvaire is full of questions that never get answered in any direct way, which is bound to frustrate some. Personally I loved the delivery and the film challenged me to use my noodle during and well after it was over. My husband and I were still talking about this film two days after we watched it.

Clearly Bartel isn’t playing with a full deck. Beyond his more obvious actions in the film, there are several more subtle clues that suggest his reality is warped. But at the end of the day, Bartel wants to be loved. This is what makes his pairing with Marc Stevens even more interesting. Marc is loved by many, but seems unable to display emotion when he’s not performing. He is loved, but unable to love in return. Marc and Bartel are a fascinating duo. Both actors, Laurent Lucas who plays Marc and Jackie Berroyer who plays Bartel are excellent. The opening scene where Marc is performing at a nursing home features the films only women including French actress Brigitte Lahaie (who still looks amazing at 50!). This strange, sad and amusing first act had me wondering where in the hell this film was going. The balance of the film is an all-male cast. The group of villagers are a grubby looking lot who Bartel seems at odds with and then we have Boris who spends most of the film looking for his dog, whom he eventually finds…sort of?! One of the films most surreal moments takes place in the village bar. One man gets up and plays a heavily creepy piece of music on the piano and the group gets up a few at a time and begin rocking back and forth to the music. Yep. Sometimes guys just gotta dance! A scene as bizarre as anything you’ll see in a Buñuel, Lynch or Anger flick!

Calvaire has an outstanding atmosphere of claustrophobia and tension that builds to the point of hysteria and then calmly finishes with the camera panning over wintery forest landscapes in the films excellent “non-ending”. The Inn and the surrounding forest is the perfect backdrop and add greatly to the pitch perfect mood. Visually Calvaire is without flaw. It definitely has its disturbing moments but is never really graphic. Nonetheless the scenes of violence are powerful and effective. This one is a little slower paced and may not have the gore some would like, but in my opinion films like Calvaire don’t come along often enough. Calvaire is a thought provoking, beautifully filmed, unique, surreal and disturbing experience. Highly recommended!

Dungeon Rating: 4.5/5

Directed By: Fabrice Du Welz

Starring: Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie, Gigi Coursigny, Jean-Luc Couchard, Jackie Berroye, Philippe Nahon, Philippe Grand’Henry, Jo Prestia, Marc Lefebvre

6 Responses to “CALVAIRE – The Ordeal – The Dungeon Review!”

  1. I’m soooo glad you liked this one GoreGirl!!! You did a great job; its a difficult one to review. Since you liked this one so much I know you’re gonna really gonna like Vinyan. Its an even more challenging movie that has some truly beautiful scenes in it. Du Welz HAD to have been influenced by Apocalypse Now on Vinyan (you’ll see exactly what I mean).

    And what did you make of the guy on the cross near the beginning of Calvaire? Its a beautifully disturbing movie. I think I mentioned before that after my first viewing I really didn’t care for it but I couldn’t stop thinking about. So I watched it over again. And again. Now I own it and watch it every couple months.

    GREAT review!!

    • goregirl Says:

      Scott, I really thought it was fantastic! It blends my love for all things surreal with all things horror so magnificently!

      I’m not sure…are you referring to “the crucifixion” scene? There was so damn much going on here, I’m sure I missed some subtleties here and there!

      Du Welz made an interesting statement in the commentary, that for him there were only two characters; Marc and Bartel. This made me question everything! Particularly the villagers and the final chase. This was my first (and so far) only viewing of the film. But after we watched the commentary we went back and re-watched a couple of scenes. I can’t claim I have it all figured out, I only know what I took away from it. Usually I like to mention the violence in a film but I didn’t think it would serve Calvaire well to do so. You are absolutely right, this is one that needs to be rewatched to be fully appreciated it and I will definitely be revisiting this one again!!!

  2. The Film Reel Says:

    I love when someone says they were still thinking about a movie days after watching it. I like that kind of mind bending film so I’m going to make sure I put this on my list.

  3. I just watched this and it freakin’ rocked in every way. The camerawork was straight out of Gaspar Noé (and this one might have even come first). The cow/dog was great, the piano scene was amazing, and it worked as so much more than JUST a horror. It was a fine horror, to be sure, but it was also a really well-made movie.

    • goregirl Says:

      Gems like this don’t come around nearly often enough! I have been meaning forever to check out Fabrice Du Welz other film VINYAN, which I’ve heard nothing but great things about!

  4. […] I must say of the ones I have seen from this list I have really enjoyed. I have reviewed Amer, Calvaire and included Daughters of Darkness on my list of favourite films of 1971. Although Man Bites Dog is […]

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