Return of Project Horror, Day 11: Calvaire


Posited: It should be very easy to make a movie which will frighten French audiences.  Timidity is the natural state of the French.  Tomorrow morning, I could walk across the Maginot Line with a gun and be sending you greetings tomorrow night from the Republic of Holwerdania.

Here is my spec script for a French horror film.
Jean-Claude: Sacre bleu!  We have run out of wine!
Pierre: Zut alors! (faints)

FIN (That is French for "The End.")

Let's see if this one grows legs like the Century Egg did with my Chinese readers.

Anyway...  You can imagine my surprise when I heard that there's actually some very good horror coming out of France these days.  There's even a label for it - New French Extremity.  Last year I did five days of foreign horror, but this year I decided to narrow my focus to France and see what this is all about.

Unfortunately, I started with Calvaire.  Think of every stereotype you have in mind about French movies.  Pointless scenes of surrealism?  Matter-of-fact licentiousness?  Dudes wearing berets?  Calvaire has got the bases covered on all of these.

Marc is a singer who makes a living by performing in small venues like nursing homes, travelling between gigs in his van, which he also lives in.  He's very popular among the people he performs for, which has made him arrogant, but he is poised at the verge of commercial success, too.  As he leaves his first performance of the movie, he is en route to a televised Christmas special, which will be a big break for him.  He becomes lost in a thunderstorm and must seek a place to stay when his van breaks down in the middle of nowhere.  A strange, distraught man leads Marc to a rundown inn, where he is shown inside by Bartel, the innkeeper.  Bartel offers to help repair Marc's van, and reveals that he also used to be a performer, a stand-up comedian.  He and his wife (who was a singer) used to perform for their guests each evening before she left him and he closed the inn.

Marc becomes suspicious of Bartel, who attacks and incapacitates him.  Bartel believes that Marc is actually his wife, who has returned to him.  Together, he wants to reopen the inn and resume their life together.  When Marc escapes, Bartel recaptures him and crucifies him in the barn at the inn, an act which he notices has been observed by two townspeople from the nearby village.  He leaves Marc to go visit the pub in town, where he rants at all of the men that none of them is to come around his place anymore, and that he knows they have all had their way with his wife in the past, but that those days are now over.

And this is when the movie takes a turn for the worse.  After Bartel leaves the pub, the men all look at each other with an expression that makes you think they all believe Bartel is nuts.  And then one of them goes to the piano, starts playing this bizarre, frenetic polka, and all of the men partner up and start doing a ridiculous, galumphing dance together.  I am not making that up.  It turns out that not only does Bartel believe Marc is his wife, so do all of the men from town, and it is, in fact, their intention to go straight to Bartel's and have their way with Marc.  Which they do.  Which leads to the movie's very violent denouement.

This movie just flat out did not work.  It wasn't scary, although it should have been.  The elements were all in place, and horrible things happened to Marc, but they just don't resonate at all.  The whole thing is just so... ridiculous that you never have any emotional stake in what happens.  I mean, Marc is kind of a jerk, but not so much of one that you enjoy seeing him get tortured.  And the situation around him quickly builds to such a level of absurdity that you can't take it seriously when the abuse really starts.  It started out OK, with the spooky inn in an isolated area on a stormy night, but it completely squandered a decent beginning to make way for a truly farcical ending.  Oh, and along the way a teenager has sex with a cow while his family watches.  I also am not making that up.

You will hate everybody in this movie, and yourself for watching it.  I give it one car battery out of five.


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