Directed by Fabrice Du Welz
Written by Fabrice Du Welz & Romain Protat
In the 2005 Belgian import Calvaire, Marc (Laurent Lucas)
is a singer, although not a particularly talented or successful one.
With his good looks and scruffy charm, however, he makes decent money
during winter holidays. We first see him performing a maudlin ballad at a
nursing home, where two women make passes at him. Gently deflecting the
unwanted attention, Marc explains that he's on his way to another gig,
and promptly hits the road in his rickety van.
Hours later, on the road, in the dark, in a downpour, his van breaks down. (A word of advice: If you have to travel long distances, through
territory where you have no friends and you might run into people you
don't want as friends, you can avoid being the hero of a horror film by
acquainting yourself with the inner workings of your only vehicle.)
So, an irritatingly odd young man wanders by and says he's looking
for his lost dog. He helps Marc find his way from the ailing van to a
nearby inn. As our hapless hero's luck would have it, innkeeper Bartel (Jackie Berroyer) is a gregarious man who used to be a comedian, and he's glad of the company Marc offers. (If Marc were smarter, he might ask how a gregarious comedian ends up
alone in the middle of nowhere operating an inn nobody visits. But
maybe this is the kind of question you only ask if you watch as many
horror films as I do.) It seems the tragedy of Bartel's life was the loss of his beloved
wife Gloria, who ran off and left him years ago. Bartel's nostalgia for
Gloria is matched by his wariness of the people who live in the village a
couple of miles away. Bartel warns Marc not to go to the village,
because there is something wrong with the residents.
The next day, while Bartel attempts to repair the van, Marc goes for a
walk. He stumbles upon several local farmers engaged in an act that
seems to support Bartel's warning about the village. Marc slips away
and returns to the inn, where Bartel has made every effort to make him
feel "at home."
The title of the film is translated as "The Ordeal." And there were
several times during the second half when I laughed out loud, thinking
it must surely end soon, and not for my sake. There are chilling
moments, like the bizarre dance of ugly men in the tavern, that keep
renewing the tantalizing possibility of more than the film delivers.
But, ultimately, this is a short, simple tale of cruelty and revenge
enacted without a breath of compassion.
My sympathies are with Gloria.