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  • Rev Horror

Calvaire (The Ordeal)

Dir. Fabrice du Welz (2004)

A traveling musician's van breaks down and he finds himself stuck in a strange town with even stranger inhabitants.


I watched Calvaire (The Ordeal) after seeing it on many horror movie lists, and the utter banality of the plot from what I read beforehand made me wonder if it was even worth my time. Some guy gets lost in the woods, and has a strange experience. Uh, ok. So French Deliverance? I went into the movie knowing almost nothing about it, and with fairly low expectations, and I was pretty impressed. I've enjoyed almost every French horror/disturbing movie I've seen recently, and Calvaire was no different.

The French seem to be doing things right with the horror genre lately. What really struck me the most about this movie was its oddness. It almost had a David Lynch feel, where scenes didn't seem completely coherent, and you feel like they must add something to the plot, but even when its done, you're not really sure that they did. You get the feeling that you're experiencing this man's nightmare, and the setup is so completely innocuous that it could've happened to anyone. Unfortunately for our "hero" Marc, it happened to him.

THR Calvaire

I, also, think haircuts are fucking hilarious.

Marc goes from being a singer who serenades old folks homes to the victim of a deranged lunatic's scheme to get his wife back in the strangest way possible. This leads me to what I found to be the most interest takeaway from this movie: I've always wondered, for the longest time, about how songs really work in other languages. Do they rhyme in English, or the language of origin? I've heard foreign songs in the past, and there doesn't seem to be a particular rhyming scheme. However, through all of the songs sung throughout this movie, the rhyme happens in French, not English. So there ya go. Seems like that's just common sense, but I've asked the question to many people over the years, and no one could give me a legit answer. Apparently, when a foreign-language song appears to rhyme in English, it's largely because the words sound similar enough so as to rhyme in both languages. So thanks, Calvaire, for answering my dumbest question! And speaking of music, this film utilized its "soundtrack" fantastically. From the soulful melody of Marc's romantic songs to the frenetic piano playing in the skeevy bar, music tied a lot of this movie together.

THR Calvaire2

Creature of the night, what music he makes

Jackie Berroyer made the movie for me, and I thought he was fantastic as Bartel, the inn-keeper that torments our hero. He played crazy really damn well, and his pairing with Philippe Nahon, who played the leader of the townspeople in this movie and The Butcher in Gaspar Noe's I Stand Alone, was fantastic. They seemed to have some kind of Hatfields and McCoys thing going on, and poor Marc was stuck right in the middle. It was honestly hard to tell who was the crazier of the two, and they were both incredibly entertaining. Calvaire was a pretty good effort, not my favorite of the French New Wave, but a valid entry into the genre. It was certainly disturbing, and it was very well put together. I'd have appreciated a faster pace, but some directors (like the aforementioned Lynch) like that slow-burn of anticipation, dread, and freakiness. I also would've like to see more of Nahon, but in the end, it probably would've had to take away from Berroyer, and he carried the film for me. So maybe that wasn't a terrible thing.

Who this movie is for: French New Extremity fans, Foreign horror lovers, Singer/songwriters Bottom Line: Calvaire is definitely worth a watch, especially for fans of the French New Extremity horror films. Jackie Berroyer is incredibly, and the acting as a whole is above par. The directing is more than capable, the cinematography is drab and as melancholy as the plot, and it's a great film overall. I highly recommend that you check this one out if you get the chance.

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