Modern Mondays: Calvaire (2004)

c1 c3 c2 When I first saw Calvaire (2004) it haunted me for weeks. No matter how much I tried to forgot the film’s snow saturated landscapes, strange characters, unhinged violence and unsettling atmosphere I just couldn’t shake the movie from my memory. Images from Calvaire haunted my dreams and threatened to consume my thoughts. This fascinating horror film was directed and co-written by Belgium born filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz and shot by the extraordinary cinematographer Benoît Debie (Irreversible; 2002). Together Fabrice Du Welz and Benoît Debie form part of an important group of European filmmakers who are producing some of today’s most innovative and cutting edge films. This creative group includes controversial directors Gaspar Noé and Lucile Hadzihalilovic, as well as Peter Van Hees who recently helmed Left Bank. Together these filmmakers seem to be redefining horror cinema and invoking the darkest and arguably most interesting aspects of cinema fantastique.

Calvaire brazenly borrows ideas from classic survival horror films such as Deliverance (1972), The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and The Hills Have Eyes (1977) while making nods to more subtle work including Don’t Look Now (1973) and The Brood (1979). Despite these influences, director Fabrice Du Welz manages to infuse his film with a dark romanticism that would make Matthew “Monk” Lewis proud.

The film stars the talented French actor Laurent Lucas as a young entertainer named Marc whose van breakdowns somewhere in the Belgian countryside. Marc soon becomes an object of admiration and incomprehensible cruelty for a local innkeeper named Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). What separates Calvaire from other films involving individuals who find themselves lost in the wilderness and preyed upon by crazed locals, is the way the film dares to play with gender roles. Fabrice Du Welz smartly subverts the idea of the “final girl’ that is prevalent in many popular horror films and turns it on its head.

The film is also beautifully photographed by Benoît Debie who makes the most of Belgium’s winter weather and invokes a creepy gothic ambiance that is all often missing from contemporary horror movies. Last but not least, Calvaire boasts a brief but memorable appearance by the beautiful European horror icon and erotic actress Brigitte Lahaie who has appeared in many Jean Rollin films including The Grapes of Death (1978), Fascination (1979) and Night of the Hunted (1980) and as well as Jess Franco’s Faceless (1987) and critically acclaimed films such as Diva (1981) and Henry & June (1990). c6 c5 c4

Calvaire is available on DVD and currently on sale at Amazon for $17.99. You should also be able to find it for rent at Netflix.com and Greencine.com.

Modern Mondays is an ongoing project here at Cinebeats where I share a few thoughts or lengthy rants and raves about my favorite films produced during the last decade. Films previously highlighted on Modern Mondays include:
The Left Bank (2008)
Love Songs (2007)
Bright Future (2003)
Control (2007)
The Quiet American (2001)
A History of Violence (2005)
This Is England (2007)
Shaun of the Dead (2004)
Innocence (2004)
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
Cloverfield (2008)
Last Life in the Universe (2003)
Before the Fall (2008)

6 thoughts on “Modern Mondays: Calvaire (2004)

  1. Kith Tsune says:

    I remember thinking “Wow, Grand Guignol!” watching this ! The desolate and creepy belgian countryside is haunting and literally chilling though.

    Jackie Berroyer’s turn as Bartell is great. He is perhaps better known as a goofy comedian and TV host than as an actor. To watch him as this cold and whiny psycho was even more unsettling.

  2. Kimberly Lindbergs says:

    Richard – I’d like to know what you didn’t like about it if you get the time. The imagery is memorable!

    Kith – The film does have a very “Grand Guignol” feel. Almost old-fashioned even. I haven’t seen Berroyer in much else so his bad guy role didn’t seem as surprising to me. But it is interesting how comedic actors can often play really creep characters. I’m reminded of Peter Lorre who could be hilarious in one film and terrifying in the next. Or someone like John Goodman who is mainly known for his comedy roles but was terrific as the sympathetic creep in Barton Fink.

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