I had heard about Fabrice du Welze’s 2004 offering Calvaire and decided to give it a try. Calvaire translates into The Ordeal. Boy did this one have the right title. I don’t like slow-moving films. This one took way too long to actually get moving. I’ll be honest: this one is bleak and boring, which is a nasty combination on a good day and a deadly one on a bad day. As such, I had to find some sort of way to amuse myself (because, you know, shutting off a movie you don’t quite like makes way too much sense). I was determined. I was going to make it through this one, dammit. So I started paying attention to the character Marc (Laurent Lucas) and how everyone in this film pursues him in one way or another. And then, a revelation: in attempting to persevere, I managed to adapt just enough to endure. Just like that, I became Marc – the poster boy for Stockholm syndrome at the end of the film.
|This film is about as happy as the poster.
Marc’s journey is an odd one, and we can see why he manages to have a complete mental breakdown. When we first meet Marc, he’s putting on makeup and humming in preparation to perform – a far cry from the sobbing mess that believes himself to be Gloria at the end of the film. In a sick moment of foreshadowing, he croons, “Day after day, life is merely survival” to a group of elderly nursing home residents, later fending off the advances of an aged fan and a nurse that slips him topless photos. So when he leaves to pursue a living and his car breaks down, he goes searching for help and stumbles across Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), a man whose wife left him and managed to suck every ounce of happiness from him. Hell, Bartel used to be funny – the comedian can’t even tell a successful joke without her. Turns out that Bartel’s wife Gloria brought happiness to a lot of people, as the whole village seems to miss having her around. And who better to fill that role than Marc? In short order, he’s beaten, has his head shaved, is forced to wear a dress, is literally crucified, raped and goes on the run. At the end of all of this, we find out that Marc has cracked and begins answering questions put to him as Gloria. He goes from a small-time performer with groupies to a broken shell that believes himself to be a pursued woman in a matter of about two days. Yikes.
So what makes Marc so special? Simply put, Marc represents sexual magnetism and talent, to which people wish to attach themselves in order to achieve some type of gratification, whether it be sexual or a sense of emotional closeness. The caretaker Vicky (Brigitte Lahaie) throws herself at Marc, cementing that he’s an object of desire. The elderly fan at the beginning of the film refers to him as a bringer of joy, and states that his songs bring her back to her youth. She also attempts to have him grope her, signaling that Marc has a quality that draws forth youth, happiness and sexuality. More telling, though, Marc incites a type of passion within the woman, as she states that he was looking at her during the show; his rejection causes a reaction we don’t often get to see in the elderly, which is one of feeling stupid and ashamed at rejection. In Bartel’s case, he is also reeling from the rejection of Gloria, who is no longer with him, telling Marc, “When I lost her, I lost everything… When Gloria left, Bartel’s sense of humor left with her… But when Gloria was here, I was happy as a lark.” Bartel then asks Marc to sing for him, to which Marc sings about sitting in the shadows and watching a beautiful, unattainable woman (at this point, I was mentally yelling, “Marc, you in danger, girl.”). This draws a comparison between Marc and Gloria: both singers, they have provided company to Bartel, igniting his connection to his creativity while providing companionship. It’s no shock that Bartel wants to keep Marc around and have that all to himself, but it’s interesting that in his desire to keep him, he feels the need to brag about the “return” of “Gloria” to the villagers… which results in Bartel’s death and Marc’s rape. Turns out that Gloria was much desired, and in her absence, she was missed. The villagers need a Gloria, and when Marc fits pieces of the criteria, they’re willing to overlook the smaller things (like the fact that he’s a man and obviously not Gloria) to make the substitution fit. In a way, they’re making the most out of an unbearable situation – the loss of something that provided them joy and, presumably, sexual release – in order to cope with life.
|A metaphor for the audience, perhaps?
And therein lies the rub: everyone in this film is trying to make the most out of a situation that is so fucking depressing that it’s simply easier to accept the world around you than try to fight to get out of it. Marc tries to make a better life for himself at the beginning of the film by traveling, and he fails. He tries to make his life easier by escaping his captivity; he fails again, and as a result is trapped, beaten, crucified and humiliated. He screams and cries while tied to a chair; that doesn’t help either. In his powerlessness, he’s raped on a dining room table and then runs for his life, his pursuers close on his heels (complete with hunting pig – I wish to god I was making that part up, but I’m not). Once lost in the wilderness and facing a dying captor, Marc’s pushed past the point of fuck it and answers the dying man as Gloria. I don’t blame Marc for this. In a similar vein, it’s easy to see how others could make the jump from regular person to deluded mess. Bartel, while less sympathetic, is an obviously broken man that is trying to fix the fracture of his life by substituting another in place of his lost love, a woman that has left a gaping hole in the entire village as well. With no alternative in sight (really, there was a middle aged woman seen once, but otherwise, no other women in that place), they had to find something else. Marc represented what they were missing, so he became it in order for them to continue to function. Everyone adapted to the best of their ability, making their responses to the surroundings and circumstances more of a Stockholm issue than anything else.
|“It goes by faster if you play along…”
For those of us that stuck around until the end, we’ve had to find a way to get through this whole mess. We’ve tried watching and making the best of an imperfect film. In a sense, we wind up identifying with Marc and his tormentors because we’ve had to make the most of a bad situation as well. Whether or not we’re still sane at the end of it is another matter.