Friday, October 24, 2008

Night 23: Calvaire / The Ordeal

Last night I dreamed I was asleep and having a nightmare that I cannot recall. I awoke with a start, and found my wife cleaning the room in the dark. She dumped a pile of clothes on my head. When I lifted my head a little girl with long dark hair and devil eyes was staring at me from the doorway. I tried to shout at her but the only thing that came out was a series of moans and gurgles, as if someone had cut out my tongue. My wife began to say "no, no, no" over and over again, until I finally awoke for real. She fell asleep again almost immediately, but it took me much longer. Eventually I drifted off, with my face away from the door. Sometime later I was awakened by the sound of someone entering the room. I rolled over and froze at the sight of a small dark silhouette standing soundless and still in the doorway.

One of my daughters wanted me to accompany her to the bathroom.

Until that happened, I wasn't entirely convinced the double nightmare, dream within a dream, sequence really happened to people outside of the movies. Emerging from two nightmares into a synchronous reality is not exactly the best way to get a restful night's sleep.

The irony is that last night's selection was not exceptionally frightening and had nothing to do with little girls. Calvaire, or The Ordeal, is a Belgian film by Fabrice Du Welz about a struggling lounge singer who detours into a village straight out of the Middle Ages en route to his next gig. There he meets a quirky innkeeper named Bartel who turns out to be quite insane over the loss of his wife, and unwilling to let his new guest leave. At this point, the film descends into a Deliverance-style story of survival, as it might have been conceived by Samuel Beckett. The performances are all first rate, and Du Welz gives rural Belgium a muddy, almost-cthonic malevolence, but the action is so plodding and the surrealism so self-conscious that the end result is not fear or horror but befuddlement and frustration. Calvaire includes scenes of rape and bestiality, torture and crucifixion, but none of them are particularly shocking or effective. There is one segment, involving inbred villagers dancing in a bar, that nearly lifts the film from its soggy mire, but alas no. You get the sense that everyone involved in this film is talented and dedicated, and that some very "deep thoughts" about loneliness and despair are trying to be expressed but, ultimately, The Ordeal is exactly that, and nothing more.

Scorecard (out of ten skulls):
Scare Factor:

My psychological status:

No comments: