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Friday, 26 October 2012

Throughout October, Cody will be participating in the Final Girl Film Club SHOCKtober event with articles posted on a different movie every day of the month.


Today, the 2004 Belgian film Calvaire, a.k.a. The Ordeal.


A couple weeks ago, my viewing of the Belgian film Left Bank was one of the highlights of this month of Film Club movies. Now the schedule has brought up another Belgian horror offering, and this one I found to be one of the lowest points of the month.

The story follows Marc Stevens, a singer who makes a living travelling Belgium in his van to perform a solo act in rinky dink venues around the country. In the cinematic world that director/co-writer Fabrice Du Welz has crafted, it seems that Marc is the only semi-normal (although not very likeable) person in Belgium, everyone he encounters is rather weird, usually excessively horny and likely mentally unbalanced.

That is especially the case in the small village where Marc's van ends up breaking down. He's able to get a room in a rundown bed and breakfast owned by a kindly, quirky old man named Paul Bartel, an homage to an actor of the same name, a Corman regular who directed such films as Death Race 2000 and Eating Raoul, in addition to a very prolific acting career that included appearances in Piranha (1978), Rock 'n' Roll High School, Chopping Mall, Killer Party, Munchies, and Gremlins 2. As Calvaire went on, I began to wish that I was watching the real Paul Bartel in something else.

Calvaire's Bartel warns Marc to stay away from the village, the people who live there are odd ducks, and when Marc strays too far away from the bed and breakfast, he sees a sight that confirms the locals are an unusual bunch. Seems that trysts with barnyard animals are encouraged around this place, with interspecies copulations being a revered spectactor event. The locals seem especially fond of calves.

Soon, Bartel's friendly and good humored facade crumbles to reveal that he's quite mad himself. He becomes convinced that Marc is in fact his longlost wife Gloria, who was also a singer. Bartel isn't the only one who thinks this in the movie, when he tells the villagers that Marc is Gloria, they fully believe him. Bartel subdues Marc, cuts his hair, puts him in a dress, and treats him like an unwilling wife, warning that if "Gloria" tries to leave him again, he'll take an axe and split "her" in two like a log. From then, we get half of a movie dedicated to torture, crucifixion, and anal rape.

With characters sharing delusions and the forced gender reassignment, Calvaire does have elements that are reminiscent of the earlier Film Club entry The Tenant, but while it attempts to have a darkly humorous side like that movie did, it doesn't really work here. This movie was too twisted, nasty and dirty for me to enjoy in any way.

I'd call Calvaire nothing but a nonsensical exercise in filth, but that sounds too much like something from one of the dopey anti-horror rants Siskel and Ebert would go off on in the '80s.


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