It may not have the best story, or the best characters, or the best of anything; but I still found myself admiring Fabrice Du Welz's "Calvaire" a whole lot, and consistently to boot. This is one of those films that tries hard enough to succeed, in spite of its shortcomings (and I assure you, there are many), and the end result will either repulse you with its "awfulness" or surprise you with how genuine it is. A lot of loving craft went into the picture and I respect that; it all pays off. Welz has made a chilling thriller that truly aims to distress its audience. At this point, it isn't a matter of how much you love or hate the movie; it's how disturbed you are.
Normally, I wouldn't like this approach, but there's something about the way in which Welz goes about staging all three acts of his film. It's the story of pop singer Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) who is leaving a show at a retirement home when his car breaks down somewhere deep in the woods; and he finds himself stranded there, searching for help. Eventually, it comes his way in the form of a strange man searching for a lost man; and it is this same kind but quirky guy that leads Marc to an Inn not far from where his car remains. The Inn is run by a man named Bartel (Jackie Berroyer); who appears kindly, or at least kindly enough to tow Marc's car to the premises and attempt to fix it up a bit.
Marc stays a few days; a few nights. Bartel is comforting and nice; but there's work to be done. The car needs repairing, and so do Marc's emotions, which are in a tangle. To ease himself of this burden, he takes walks around the local and surrounding areas; troubled only by an instant in which Bartel warned him of a nearby village - telling him never to approach it. When Marc fails to listen and makes his way to the village regardless of Bartel's warnings; there is a dramatic turning point for the story that comes in the form of a scene depicting ritual-like bestiality between man and pig.
Oh, and that's just the beginning of the weirdness that is soon to unfold. The story keeps getting stranger...and stranger...and oddly, a little more complex; as it goes on, of course. Since I'm hoping that a good few of you reading are curious about the film and wish to pursue and ultimately see it, I will not go any further in describing the story; because going further would mean spoiling a lot of the nasty surprises present throughout the remaining portion of the story.
I like this movie because it does not cheat its audience. There's always a foreboding feeling of dread from the minute Marc hops in his van and hits the road; and Welz is very peculiar in how he builds suspense. He builds it through characters, dialogue, location, visual style, the off-kilter lack of a musical score, and horrors that have yet to reveal themselves. This is not - and I repeat, NOT - a horror movie; but more-so a quiet, deceptive, engaging thriller that does indeed have some thrills, some chills, and some scares. This is a film that makes its mystery known before it's even revealed; yet it's made with such taste and style that we don't call it "cheap" or "disappointing". Or maybe that's just me being opinionated; because I'm told that not everyone respected the ordeal while it lasted.
While I'm kind of sad that this isn't a great film; I'm also glad that it isn't a bad one either. I imagine that it could have been better had it have been given a stronger opening scene (it begins with Marc singing to some old people; there were probably many other mapped-out choices in terms of how to begin the film, and I'm sure they were all better than the final pick) and more interesting, multi-dimensional characters. However, it's got enough genuine tension and skill put into it that I can push those things aside and recommend it to those willing to trudge through some thick, thick muck.
In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to live with movies like "Wolf Creek" and "August Underground". But this is not a perfect world, and therefore the sick, perverted bastards behind such exploitative garbage are allowed to run wild in order to freely express their "art". The primary reason why I enjoyed "Calvaire" is because it's just as disturbing as the said films; yet it doesn't provoke disgust out of what we see. Rather, it's all atmosphere, tension, and build-up; something that those repulsive, sick insults to cinema lack. And if I had to choose how I'd want to be disturbed, I'd choose a film like "Calvaire" over some torture porn feature any given day of the week.