CALVAIRE (2004) Reviewed by Steve Kirkham

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CALVAIRE (2004)

4 Stars
Blue Finch Film Releasing. Digital Release. Out Now

Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) is a travelling singer and entertainer playing exciting places like old people’s homes (early scenes feature Jean Rollin star Brigitte Lahaie as Mme Vicky – who has a crush on the performer).

On his way to a Christmas gala his van breaks down in the middle of nowhere (never a good thing). He comes across the very odd Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard) looking for his dog Bella. He advises Marc that there is an inn nearby run by Bartel (Jackie Berroyer).

The innkeeper, initially at least, seems very helpful, towing the van to the hostelry and offering to try and fix it, as the local mechanic is unavailable.

Having to stay a while, Marc goes for a walk nearby… Bartel warns him to stay away from the village. The first warning sign not all is as it seems. On his ramble he sees locals doing something they shouldn’t with animals… as you do!

That evening Marc learns more about the hotelier – who was a comedian, but will soon out to be less than hilarious. Bartel becomes upset as he speaks about his wife Gloria, a chanteuse who left him.

Next morning things are about to take a turn for the worse, as Marc cannot find his host…

Taking a long time to build to where it is going, as obviously the inn’s owner isn’t all he seems. Around the 40 minute mark the situation goes off the rails as the fully unhinged Bartel reveals his true nature.

An odd, often unsettling movie, with a strain of dark and grim humour this has often striking cinematography by Benoît Debie and strong performances from both Lucas and especially Berroyer.

Directed by Belgian Fabrice du Welz, this is usually tagged under the New French Extremity umbrella, though not having seen it since it first came out, this feels like something of an outlier. Though it has brutal scenes, the film (also known as The Ordeal), takes too long to get where it’s going and pales in comparison to others in that strand like Inside (À l’intérieur,2007), High Tension (Haute Tension, 2003) and Martyrs (2008) to name but a few.

Ultimately it feels a touch pointless, and less shocking than it once was – though it does have the memorable ‘penguin’ dance!

Steve Kirkham