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Calvaire (Yellow Veil Pictures) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Calvaire (Yellow Veil Pictures) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Yellow Veil Pictures
    Released on: March 28th, 2023.
    Director: Fabrice du Welz
    Cast: Laurent Lucas, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Luc Couchard, Jackie Berroyer, Philippe Nahon
    Year: 2004
    Purchase From Amazon

    Calvaire – Movie Review:

    Belgian filmmaker Fabrice Du Welz's debut feature length film is, at its core, a very basic story but by the time the movie ends this deceptively simple tale will likely have your head spinning in a few directions at once.

    When the movie begins we see Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas of In My Skin), a singer and entertainer, is performing in front of a group of elderly women at a seniors home. When his show is done, he heads to his dressing room to take off his make up when he's approached by one of the audience members who wants to be with him (in the biblical sense). He declines and heads out to his truck where the facilitator of the home (French XXX actress and Jean Rollin favorite Brigitte Lahaie) hands him some rather explicit Polaroids of herself before hugging him goodbye. It seems that Marc is the object of everyone's affection, whether he likes it or not.

    His next stop is a 'Christmas Gala' and to get there he'll have to drive through the woods. As luck would have it, his van breaks down in the middle of nowhere and he thinks all is lost until he meets a man named Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard) who is out looking for his dog, Bella. After a strange conversation, Boris points Marc in the direction of the local inn, where he hopes to find a place to spend the night. The owner of the inn, Mr. Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), is only too happy to put him up and feed him when he finds out that he's a performer. It seems that a few years ago before his wife Gloria left him, Bartel was a comedian and so he sees in Marc a kindred spirit of sorts.

    Marc wakes up the next morning and finds that Bartel has towed his van out of the woods using his tractor. He tells him he's handy with cars and that he'll take a look at it for him and so Marc decides to wander around the area and check things out. Despite Bartel's warning to the contrary, Marc wanders towards the nearby village where he sees some men (lead by Philippe Nahon from I Stand Alone and Irreversible) are raping a pig. Obviously put off by what he's seen, he returns to the village where Bartel tells him that he'll need to spend another night as his battery is shot and the mechanic won't be able to get him one for another day. Marc agrees, he has no other choice, and that night Bartel tells him of Gloria and after telling him one of his jokes he convinces Marc to sing one of his songs for him. The next morning Paul wakes up to find Bartel missing and the battery removed from his van. When Bartel returns and Paul confronts him over this, his accusations are met with a smack to the head and he blacks out. When Marc wakes up, he's tied to a chair and wearing a dress. Bartel stands behind him and is cutting off all of his hair. It looks like Marc is in for a bit of an ordeal, to say the least…

    While parts of the film will remind viewers of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and even more so of Deliverance, there's a whole lot more going on here than simply a backwoods yokel torturing a stranded outsider. From the get go, Marc finds himself an object of lust, desired by the old women he performs for and then later by his captor – it's a strange position to be in, and while a performer would probably want to be loved and adored by everyone around him, here things are subverted in such a way as to really make you wonder if celebrity status (even one as minor as that afforded to Marc) is really something to aim for after all. Marc's plight is also contrasted with Christ's crucifixion which makes for interesting little bits of symbolism throughout the film. While he doesn't die for anyone's sins he is nailed to a cross and the very title of the film makes one think of the hill where Jesus was nailed up for all to see, his humanity exposed to the masses gathering below him.

    Performance wise we're in very good shape here across the board. Lucas and Berroyer are fantastic together with Lucas excelling as a completely sympathetic character who, even after all he's been put through, manages to give a dying man his last wish simply because he's a compassionate person. Berroyer's transformation from the friendly, trustworthy innkeeper to an obsessive and deranged captor is both humorous and completely frightening and these two play off of each other very well throughout the film. The movie is also extremely well shot. From the close ups of Marc as he's doing this thing on stage at the beginning of the movie to the ceiling view a la Taxi Driver that is used towards the end of the movie, Calvaire is a really slick looking film. It's bleak in that the colors are very tame and have been intentionally toned down but it really works well in the context of this completely twisted and perverted story.

    Calvaire – Blu-ray Review:

    Calvaire arrives on a 50GB region A Blu-ray disc with the feature presented in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 taken from an “HD remaster created from original print with new color grading supervised by cinematographer Benoit Debbie and director Fabrice du Welz.” Picture quality is very strong, with the transfer providing good detail, depth and texture while retaining the movie’s gritty aesthetic quite effectively. Black levels and color reproduction look very good, and we get nice shadow detail here as well. The image avoids crush even in the movie’s many darker scenes. Flesh tones look good and there are no issues with noise reduction, compression artifacts or edge enhancement problems.

    The main audio option on the disc is a 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track in the original French language, but 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo option is provided as well, also in French. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. The 5.1 track is the way to go if you have a surround sound setup, as the rear channels are used pretty effectively in a few key scenes. The track is clean, clear and nicely balanced and the subtitles are easy to read and free of any obvious typos.

    Director Fabrice du Welz provides a quick ninety second introduction to the movie where he talks about the color grading done for this release and why they chose to rebalance the blacks and whites. He also provides an audio commentary with production designer Manu de Meulemeester. There's lots of talk here about the visuals on display in the film, the heavy use of yellows and greens in certain scenes and how they contrast with the earth tones later in the movie, casting the film and what the different actors were like to collaborate with, choosing the locations for the film, why specific scenes were blocked and shot the way that they were, the use of mirrors in the film, some of the themes that the movie explores and how this ties into some of the visuals, details on the cinematography and shot selections, the importance of the work that the art department did for the movie and quite a bit more.

    The disc also includes a thirty-two minute interview with director Fabrice du Welz. Here he speaks about where the ideas for the story for the movie came from, starting with a short film called A Wonderful Love which had homages to Fulci and Argento, then tackling the full length Calvaire, wanting to create a movie that didn't hide its influences but which had its own voice, the influence of American exploitation and survival horror, getting the right locations for the movie, the enigmatic qualities of the lead character, bringing Lahaie into the movie and what she was like to work with, putting the rest of the cast and crew together, seeing director Gaspar Noe's reaction to the film at a screening, bringing abstract ideas into the visuals, bringing some rather taboo elements into the movie, the impact that religion had on him growing up, how the film was received when it played festivals and the importance of supporting up and coming filmmakers.

    There are also four Storyboard To Film featurettes here, each one spending a few minutes showing how the original storyboards translated into what we see in the finished movie. The first shows us the introduction to the Marc Stevens character and runs three minutes, the second shows us the scene where Bartel breaks into the van and the villagers and runs seven minutes, the third shows the scene where Bartel drops a wire and runs two minutes and the last shows us the final 'inferno' scene and runs eight minutes.
    The Casting Tapes section runs sixty-nine minutes and shows the different actors involved in the movie auditioning for their respective parts. We see Laurent Lucas auditioning for Marc Stevens and working with Jackie Berroyer as Bartel, Phillipe Nahon as Bartel and some choreography being worked on for the Marc Stevens character.

    The Calvaire Production Bible runs seven minutes and features and it shows off a wealth of research photos, conceptual drawings and location photography that all clearly played a big part in the film's pre-production process.

    Up next is Fabrice du Welz’s short film A Wonderful Love, taken from a new transfer of the original 35mm negative. It runs twenty-three minutes and tells the story of a woman named Lara (Edith Le Merdy, who had a part in Man Bites Dog) who is more than just a little bit socially awkward. As such, she's not good with men; although an oddball named Adam (Jean-Luc Couchard, from Calvaire) at the local butcher shop (run by Jackie Berroyer also from Calvaire) might have a thing for her. However, Lara would clearly like a boyfriend. When her birthday rolls around, she hires a male stripper named Joe (Philippe Résimont) to perform at the party she throws for herself, with no one else in attendance. Soon enough, Lara has stabbed him in the throat. Despite the fact that he is now a corpse, she puts out an add looking for another couple to join them in bed. She gets a response from a creepy man named Jean-Yves L'Échangiste (Michel Crémadès) and his lovely female companion Rosa (adult film actress Laure Sinclair), but not surprisingly, it doesn't go so well and eventually a man named Mr. Fulci (Noël Godin) shows up to do something about the complaints of a stench coming from her apartment.

    It’s a pretty amusing slice of black comedy mixed with horror performed by a pretty strong cast and with directing traits that definitely foreshadow some of the techniques and tactics that Welz would use on a bigger scale in Calvaire.

    Finishing up the extras on the disc are a behind the scenes photo gallery, a storyboard photo gallery, a teaser trailer, menus and chapter selection options.

    Inside the keepcase alongside the disc is a color insert booklet containing an essay from writer Jack Sargeant titled ‘Calvary & Crucifixtion’ as well as some black and white behind the scenes photos and production credits. Sargeant’s essay provides an interesting analysis of the movie and is worth taking the time to read.

    This release also includes some reversible cover sleeve artwork and, if purchased directly from Vinegar Syndrome’s website, includes an embossed slipcover featuring newly created artwork by Tony Stella limited to 2,000 copies.

    Calvaire - The Final Word:

    An impressive debut from an obviously talented director, Calvaire has its roots firmly planted in the horror genre but manages to do something unique and completely disturbing with what is, at its core, a very tired concept and the end result is a really strong film well worth seeking out. The special edition Blu-ray release of from Yellow Veil scores high marks all around, giving the film an excellent presentation on a disc loaded with interesting extra features. Highly recommended!

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