Tag: laurent lucas

The Ordeal

The Ordeal (2004)
★ / ★★★★

Marc (Laurent Lucas), a singer, has just performed in a senior home where he received two sexual advances: one from one of the residents and the other from one of the staff. Marc refuses both of them and makes his way to a Christmas gala. While driving down a foggy road, his car breaks down. No one happens to be around with the exception of Boris (Jean-Luc Couchard), a man desperate to find his dog. Boris eventually leads Marc to an inn, managed by a man named Bartel (Jackie Berroyer), that appears to be out of business. Bartel is very friendly, accommodating, and likes to make jokes. What Marc does not know is that Bartel has plans of delaying his departure indefinitely.

“Calvaire,” written by Fabrice Du Welz and Romain Protat, offers an increasingly bizarre experience which becomes all the more enthralling, at least visually, when the images are stripped off their bright colors and gloss. However, despite its willingness to stand out from typical slasher flicks, it rests on delivering one strange occurrence after another which makes the picture mostly one-note in tone and somewhat of a bore to sit through.

The first half of the picture is enjoyable. The change in Marc’s opinions of the secluded town’s residents is interesting to observe. We feel the quiet menace bubbling underneath and we wonder at what point will Marc insist on forgetting the broken car for the time being and instead search for help on foot from the nearest town. Moreover, the interactions between Marc and Bartel, shot in a languid flow, hold an unsavory sexual tension that is unsettling because the latter’s intention is rooted in an obsession. When he finally decides to act upon his madness, it makes for a compelling watch.

It all falls apart somewhere in the middle. Instead of giving us a chance to learn more about the psychology of the townspeople, we are subjected to one repetitive scene after another that people who live in deep rural areas are incestuous sexual deviants who have no knowledge of a world outside their own. All of them are bulky, greasy, mucky men. They have sex with animals and they kill without remorse. The absence of women might have functioned as a trampoline to explore something more sinister but the screenplay is stuck on one or two ideas with nothing of particular interest to say.

The scenes that take place outside look astonishingly beautiful. I liked that the picturesque landscape is often paired with something else, an emotion or event that creates a contrast. For example, the incongruity between the savagery happening to the increasingly weak Marc and the tranquil forest highlight the horror that unfolds.

“Calvaire,” also known as “The Ordeal,” has good performances from Lucas and Berroyer, particularly when it is just the two of them in one room and they are allowed to marinate in each other’s awkwardness, but comic strips of freakish incidences do not make an interesting story. When the pacing begins to drag, I could not help but wonder if it might have been better off as a short film.

With a Friend Like Harry…

With a Friend Like Harry… (2000)
★★ / ★★★★

Michel (Laurent Lucas), Claire (Mathilde Seigner), and their three kids are on their way to see the children’s grandparents for summer vacation. In a cramped car with no working air conditioner, everyone is angry, annoyed, and exhausted. In a restroom rest stop, a man (Sergi López) who had just finished washing his hands stops dead in his tracks. He recognizes Michel, tells him that he is Harry, a former classmate from twenty years ago. Harry remembers details so specific that Michel figures that it is his own problem for not remembering anything about this man. Soon, Harry and Plum (Sophie Guillemin), his girlfriend, are invited to join Michel and his family in their vacation home.

Written by Dominik Moll and Francis Villain, “Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien” leaves its cage with early scenes that promise a morbid curiosity but it is ultimately a tepid combination of black comedy and thriller. Especially problematic is its second half, rife with situations driven by the swelling of the score, actively banging at our eardrums like gongs, to serve as signal that something important is occurring.

The slow rising action works for itself. Since the plot moves as a snail’s pace, our attention is directed to the characters. I enjoyed the way the parents look so haggard from taking care of three little girls. The first scene is most believable. I felt like I was in that car: everyone appears to be melting like a popsicle, children are screaming or crying in the backseat, while Michel and Claire are eventually reduced to silence because they know they are slaves to the situation. Because the family of interest looks like a family one can pick off the highway, they are accessible to us. So when the strange man enters the equation, we cannot help but wonder how or if we would have handled things differently.

Harry is nicely played by López because his character is difficult to read. There are times when I was convinced that he is not who he says he is and other instances I wondered if my initial assumptions were wrong. It is possible that he is such a seasoned liar that he considers his fabrications as reality. People like that exist and so whenever he speaks or does anything, I was determined to catch him making a mistake. However, once his true intention is revealed halfway through, he becomes exponentially uninteresting. Instead of continuing to build him as an original character, the screenplay begins to treat him as an archetype of someone who is dangerously clingy.

The third act suffers from a lack of inspiration. Despite the fact that I enjoyed its almost downbeat mood, the escalation of music is often akin to nails on a chalkboard. The incongruity of mood and score takes us out of the experience instead of allowing us to ponder and appreciate the little ironies born from the bizarre convergence of two souls who have the growing need to express their repressed feelings.

“With a Friend Like Harry…,” directed by Dominik Moll, offers good performances and has a consistently interesting situation. However, it is disappointing that the title character’s development goes on autopilot eventually. So does the last third of the picture. Lastly, I wanted to see and know more about Claire. She starts to suspect that something is off about Harry. Seigner does her best to communicate Claire’s unease but, like Harry, the character comes off underwritten.