“Calvaire” is a quirky French film that teases with a few sub-genres but settles on downright discomfort as its thematic tool for horror.
A singer breaks down in a secluded town whose residents grow increasingly odd. Let’s dig into 2004’s CALVAIRE, directed by Fabrice du Welz!
As I See It
Translated to Cavalry, it was also released under the title The Ordeal. There is a black comedy feel at the beginning of the film. It is very amateur, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. The dilettante cast (specifically in the opening) has beauty to it. The tone is very odd but appealing.
Once Marc escapes the clutches of performing to some elderly folks and the horny orderly, the whole movie changes.
It’s a bit slow, but the scene between Marc and the innkeeper, Bartel, exchanging performances ramped up the tension in my eyes. You know Marc isn’t going to have a five-star Yelp review experience.
Director Fabrice du Welz has stated that there are only two characters in the film. In reality, there are multiple characters besides just Marc and Bartel, but I understand what he’s trying to get at. There aren’t many hints that Bartel has multiple personalities until the end, which is fine, but if du Welz really wanted to craft something everlasting, it would be no small feat to make Bartel’s Split syndrome believable.
The torture Marc goes through will make you cringe, especially the crucifixion scene.
I was pleasantly surprised by this film, and for some reason, I seem to be on a French film kick. I haven’t been let down yet.
Jo Prestia (Mylène) was in Gaspar Noè’s hard-to-watch revenge film Irreversible.
Phillippe Nahon (Robert Orton) was also in Irreversible as well as the film that put Alexandre Aja on the map, High Tension.
Of Gratuitous Nature
There is no doubt about this one. Marc stumbles upon some local fellas loving on some bovine and swine. French genre cinema in the early two-thousands was very successful at shocking the viewer. The film as a whole may be filled with awkward and uncomfortable imagery, but this scene stands tall above the rest.
I love allegory, even if it is blatant and not well hidden. Marc may not have been some big pop star, but he got to see the nasty side of celebrity all the same. It’s a wonderful commentary on the degradation of the collective psyche of society and their obsession with fame.
Ripe for a Remake
Being that making an “American version” is always on the table to ruin foreign films with value, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Calvaire get that treatment. I would prefer a scenario similar to Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, as I don’t believe anyone else should touch this besides du Welz.
No progeny to report.
Where to Watch
Released by Yellow Veil Pictures, Calvaire is available through Vinegar Syndrome with an ample amount of extras and elbow grease. You can stream it on Shudder and AMC+.