Monday, April 03, 2006

CALVAIRE - Makes HOSTEL looks like Snoopy

CALVAIRE/THE ORDEAL is a genre movie that satisfies. In 90 minutes, the director, Fabrice du Welz, creates an atmosphere at first blackly comic, then slightly unnerving, then sinister and finally horrific. Marc Stevens is a cabaret singer who dresses in a sparkly cape and pays meticulous attention to his make-up. We meet him as he travels around the Belgian countryside performing in front of a nursing home full of desiccated, frustrated grannies. The director allows us to see Marc perform a full song, filmed in a single shot. Perhaps we are meant to laugh at his corny routine, but it is clear that Marc is happy in his calling. He will later cling to this when all around him is spinning out of control: “My name is Marc Stevens. I am a singer of love songs.” On the way to his next gig, Marc’s van breaks down in the back-woods of Belgium. He is taken by a vaguely sinister, yet seemingly harmless hillbilly who is searching for his lost and beloved dog to stay with another vaguely sinister and yet seemingly harmless hillbilly who has a room to spare. Increasingly nervous at the obstacles involved in getting his van repaired and embarrassed by the way in which the woodsman, Bartel, has befriended him, Marc obliges him by singing a tender love song. This song triggers something in Bartel, and he is reminded of his wife, who left him for another man. Bad things happen. This film completely creeped me out, despite the relatively restrained use of blood and gore because it created a sense of inevitability and claustrophobia. In HOSTEL, while bad things happen at the hands of psychopaths, the fate of the protagonist is ultimately in the hands of rational but ruthless people who can be appealed to, or outwitted, or paid off. By contrast, in CALVAIRE, there is no hope. Bad things happen not just because the protagonist is held hostage by a delusional hillbilly, but because the entire community is unhinged. There is no way out. There is no reason. And that, to me at least, is utterly horrifying.

CALVAIRE is available on DVD.

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