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Calvaire (aka The Ordeal) 
Written by: on January 31st, 2006

Theatrical Release Date: France/Belgium, 2004
Director: Fabrice Du Welz
Cast: Laurent Lucas, Jackie Berroyer, Philippe Nahon, Jean-Luc Couchard, Jo Prestia, Philippe Grand Henry and Brigitte Lahaie

DVD released: October 2005
Approximate running time: 87 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1 Anamorphic Wideescreen
Rating: 16
Sound: French 5.1, French DTS, French 2.0 (English Subtitles)
DVD Release: Studio Canal
Region Coding: Region 2 PAL
Retail Price: €25 ($32.95 from Xploited Cinema)

Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) is a travelling lounge singer who has just finished his latest gig at a retirement home (look out for a small but important cameo by the illustrious Brigitte Lahaie) and has a long drive ahead of him if he is to make his next date, a big Christmas gala. Unfortunately his van breaks down in the middle of the countryside but a wandering local out looking for his dog kindly points him in the direction of the local inn, the Auberge Bartel. The owner, Paul Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) shows him to his room and weary Marc settles down for the night.

The next morning Marc awakes, goes downstairs to find the kindly Monsieur Bartel has towed his van to the inn and has prepared some breakfast for him. He informs Marc that he will set about fixing his van so he can be on his way as soon as possible. So far, so good thinks Marc and he decides to take a brisk morning walk while the van is being repaired. However for some reason he is warned by Bartel not to pass by the village, he agrees and sets out. Eventually he comes across a barn where some of the locals are enjoying, shall we say some hog-loving! On seeing this Marc hightails it back to the inn and sets about getting back on the road. The van still not ready and without mentioning the live animal sex show, he is persuaded to stay on for one more night by Bartel. He cooks him dinner and tells him how happy he is to have such a performer staying with him and how he too used to perform as a comedian (!) before his wife Gloria, also once singer, left him. Marc thanks him for dinner, and asks to be woken early the next morning as he has a long drive ahead of him. However when Marc gets up the next morning, Bartel is nowhere to be seen and on checking the van he discovers the battery missing! He rushes inside to use the phone but is stopped by the sight of Bartel taking a sledgehammer to his van. He goes out to stop Bartel and soon discovers where the missing battery is… as it makes contact with his head!

This is Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz first feature and I have to say it is a mightily impressive debut. Although paying great homage to American films such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deliverance and Straw Dogs, the added Euro sleaze and terror factor makes this one deeply disturbing movie without any classic Hollywood payoffs. Bartel somehow believes the kidnapped Marc to be his estranged wife Gloria and goes about shaving his head, dressing him up in her old clothes and generally putting him through sheer hell. As well as this Marc has to deal with the sexually deviant villagers led by Orton (Philippe Nahon, “Seul contre Tous” and “Irreversible”) who are pissed at Bartel and deeply interested in the returning “Gloria”. It is extremely well directed, and the tension is slowly ramped by every passing minute. Although events start out being pretty normal, there is always a feeling of dread and disquiet and you are left thinking that something nasty is about to happen. It is also worth noting the title “Calvaire” as although it’s English translation is “The Ordeal”, it bears more religious connotations (i.e. Calvary being the hill outside Jerusalem that Jesus was crucified on)  which will be become apparent as the film progresses. Saying anymore at this stage would seriously spoil your enjoyment although keep an eye out for the bar room scene, not that you are likely to forget it, but this is highly recommended, with great performances all round and well worth tracking down.

The DVD:

It’s presented in Cinemascope 2:35:1 that looks gorgeous and totally defies its low-budget status that coupled with excellent cinematography by Benoit Debie (“Irreversible” and “Il Cartaio”) gives us strong but muted natural colours at the beginning slowly evolving into vivid blacks and reds as the film hurtles forward.

The audio too is to be applauded, with 3 flavours on offer, French 2.0, 5.1 and DTS. I watched using the DTS track and was blown away by both Marc’s screams for help and his melodious voice. Audio is incredibly atmospheric and it all comes across crystal clear.  The all important English (removable) subtitles are here, but strangely no French subtitles are available A directors commentary is also available but there are no additional English subtitles so it all depends how good your French is, but suffice to say its interesting stuff and if your French is passable you should get a lot out of it.

Onto the extras now which are great, but again there are no additional subs, so again it’s all dependant on your French. I should say that my French, although University level, is only passable at best but I more or less understood all that was being said without too much trouble.

First up is the “Making of…” (27mins) which has Du Welz talking about how the film came about and what his influences were. It’s always fascinating and it’s wonderful to listen to someone so genuinely passionate about what he is doing. It is so much better than your standard “Making-of’s” that simply has the actors telling us how fabulous everybody was on set but ultimately tells us nothing.

Next up is the “Film-annonce” or original theatrical trailer presented in DD 5.1

Following this is a “Court-Metrage” (short film) by Du Welz called “C’est Merveilleux Quand on est Amoureux” (23mins) (literally, “Being in Love is Wonderful”) that won the Grand Prix at the Gérardmer Film Festival in 1999. While viewing, one can appreciate the director’s style that is enhanced upon in “Calvaire” the same sordid atmosphere and deviant behaviour in particular. Our main protagonist here is a woman living very much alone called Lara who is preparing her birthday party with just one guest invited, a male stripper! However after the show he is keen to get away and she reluctant to let him leave so let’s just say she finds another use for the fork she was eating her cake with and I’ll let you discover yourselves what transpires. You’ll also notice appearances from “Calvaire’s” Jackie Berroyer and Jean-Luc Couchard.

Finally we have a hidden bonus, just underneath “Court-Metrage”, a series of Polaroid’s of a nude Brigitte Lahaie (surely worth the price of the DVD alone!) that play an important role within the film. This runs for around a minute and a half accompanied by one of Marc’s haunting love songs.

A superb directorial debut, great image and audio quality, strong extras, Brigitte Lahaie, what more can I say!

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