05/06/2021 06:33

Film: Calvaire

Year: 2004

Director: Fabrice du Welz

Writer: Romain Protat and Fabrice du Welz

Starring: Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie and Gigi Coursigny



This was a movie that I heard about a few years ago, but hadn’t had the chance to check it out yet. I knew that it fell somewhat in that French Extreme movement. It just wasn’t one of the big titles there. Aside from that, I didn’t know a lot about it aside from what I heard Duncan and the hosts over on the Podcast Under the Stairs had to say for the Summer Challenge Series episode. The synopsis here is Marc (Laurent Lucas), a traveling entertainer, is on his way home for Christmas when his van breaks in the middle of a jerkwater town with some strange inhabitants.

Now we start this off with Marc Stevens as he gets ready to perform a retirement home. He’s a singer and everyone seems to love him. We get an awkward scene where Madame Langhoff (Gigi Coursigny), a woman who lives there, comes on to him and he rebuffs her. He has to do the same for the woman who set this up, Mademoiselle Vicky (Brigitte Lahaie). The latter wants him to stay with her, but he states he has to perform somewhere in the south. Before he leaves, there’s an issue where his van has problems starting.

As he’s making this long journey, it seems like he gets a bit lost. It is foggy and he sees a sign for a Bartel Inn. He’s getting tired so he decides to head down this desolate path through the woods. He runs into issues when he sees something run across the road and his van dies. He tries to figure out what is wrong when he meets Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard). There’s something off about him as he’s looking for his dog. He tries to inquire about the Inn, but Boris doesn’t seem to register his questions. Marc follows him and he’s scolded for talking when he was asked not to.

Boris does bring him to the Inn though. It is run by Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). He allows Marc to stay there. He states that a tow-truck will come in the morning. Marc wakes up to Bartel towing his van with a tractor and despite the nice gesture, Marc wonders if the emergency brake was released first. Inquiries are made into a mechanic where Bartel states he’s busy. He’s does think he can fix it though. Marc decides to go for a walk while he waits and he’s commanded by Bartel to not go into the village. He agrees and what he finds in the woods is quite disturbing with Robert Orton (Philippe Nahon) and his crew.

At night we learn that Bartel was a comedian and a performer himself. He was married to a woman named Gloria. They opened this Inn together and things were going good. She left him though and Bartel hasn’t been right since. He wants Marc to perform for him, but as I said, it gets a bit weird. We also see that Bartel breaks into Marc’s van while he’s gone and steals items from him. This is the beginning of the nightmare though for Marc with Bartel and his odd neighbors.

That’s where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie as I feel that gets you up to speed with what you need to know. To get back to what I was saying, this movie I believe falls into the French Extreme movement, but I don’t think it necessarily should. It isn’t as graphic as many of them, but that’s not to say this isn’t disturbing. What I’ve heard is that this movie is depressing and that is a good way to describe it.

What the crux of this movie really is Bartel was depressed from his wife Gloria leaving him. This depression and isolation of where he’s lived has caused him to go mad. I can understand this. I’ve been broken up with and had to deal with this, but thankfully for me I didn’t live in the middle of nowhere like Bartel does. He isn’t handling it well so when Marc ends up at his place, he doesn’t want to him leave and ends up projecting some inappropriate things his way as well.

There’s another dimension to this with Robert and his group of friends. We see them engaging in an act that is pretty depraved. What I see with them is like what you’d get with Deliverance or those in America that live far out in the middle of nowhere. There aren’t a lot of people so they develop and do things that people in a more ‘civilized’ place would deem to be horrible. There is an interesting collision that happens for the climax of this as well where things might not be necessarily as they seem and Robert might have much more in common with Bartel than originally thought.

What really works here though is the performance of Lucas. He is interesting that we establish early that he’s not famous, but he’s got a fan base for the area he performs. He’s pretty talented though I feel horrible for him getting stranded like he is and then seeing the ordeal he goes through is rough. He plays it well though. Berroyer does a solid job as well. Much like Couchard, we know there’s something off about them from the beginning of meeting them. We just don’t realize the depths until things go on. I also liked to see Nahon in this movie. He just has a great look for a villain so he fits his role and I like the reveal with him as well as his crew by the end.

Now as I said, this movie doesn’t go as graphic with the violence, but that’s not to say we don’t get some. From what I remember though a lot of this is actually done off screen and we see the aftermath. A lot of what is happening as well is really psychologically demeaning as opposed to physical. That’s not to say there is not any of the latter, but in the grand scheme. I’d say the effects though were done practically, which is good. Outside of that, I think the cinematography was well done.

There’s not a lot whole lot to say about the soundtrack for me. We do get to hear Lucas sing a few times, which he does well there. There’s also this creepy tune that is played on the piano briefly to lead into the climax. I would have enjoyed more of that as it was quite haunting.

So with that said, this movie was another one that I braced myself for, but I can say I didn’t find it as damaging as others. That’s not to say we aren’t getting some brutal or traumatizing aspects. For this though, they take a more subtle approach and it is really driven by the acting for sure. I think that makes it a bit easier to handle to some movies from this movement. The effects and cinematography were solid with the soundtrack fitting for what was needed. I’d rate this as a good movie overall. Again, I will warn you that I watched this in French with English subtitles. They may be a dubbed version out there, but just wanted to establish that before ending this.


My Rating: 8 out of 10