Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Three From Belgium (pt. 2)

Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz 2004 debut film "Calvaire" is a horror film which I can highly recommend.

Set in the rural region of the Belgian Ardennes, a region of extensive forests and rolling hill country, the film explores the class-based fear city people have of the rural poor, a fear which animated horror films like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, Deliverance, Mother's Day and Motel Hell.

In the film, Laurent Lucas plays Marc Stevens, a showman who performs his inauthentic show in homes for the elderly, causing the hearts of nurses (Brigitte Lahaie!) and grannies alike to beat faster. Driving through the Ardennes, he loses his way and his car breaks down, deep in the woods. He finds shelter at an isolated Auberge run by the widower Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). Bartel, once something of an performer himself, is lonely and still grieving over the loss of his wife, and is overjoyed to give some hospitality to a fellow artist. Over-joyed ... and his joy derails completely when Marc Stevens tries to continue his journey to his next venue. And Stevens hasn't even met the equally friendly villagers!

In "Calvaire" the "urbanoid" fear is explored from several distinct angles: from the perspective of a macabre comedy, from the viewpoint of a self-aware but otherwise straight-up horror film, and from that of an extremely violent European art-house film in the style of Gaspard Noé. In a sense, it is the filmic equivalent of a Geertzian "thick description" of the urbanoid fear in horror film: by exploring the urbanoid fear in the context of several different film genres encapsulated in one film, the viewer is enabled to experience different dimensions of "urbanoia" as a socio-cultural phenomenon.

Skirting but never crossing the line between an intelligent, self-referential film and a film that is too smart for it's own good, Calvaire is a powerful experience, with excellent camera-work, beautiful color schemes, strong performances and a warped, absurd sense of humor.

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