The Films of Fabrice Du Welz: Calvaire (2004) / Vinyan (2008) Film Analysis
***CAUTION: THIS ANALYSIS CONTAINS SPOILERS***
Despite a four-year gap between release dates, and differing plots, there are many similar themes at work in director Fabrice Du Welz's films Calvaire (The Ordeal) and Vinyan. Du Welz works within the horror and drama genre confines to express great depth on human afflictions.
Calvaire begins with meeting Marc, a traveling entertainer who gets lost and has car troubles on the way to his next gig. He ends up finding a motel with an eccentric, albeit helpful, manager named Bartel. But everything is not what it seems at the motel, or nearby farm. Marc becomes suspicious when the car repair work takes excessive time, and discovers that Bartel and the locals have no interest in helping him.
Vinyan, on the other hand, comprises of a upper class couple (Jeanne and Paul Bellmer) who have lost their child. While at a charity gathering, the wife sees an image of a child in a videotape and obsesses over its identical nature to their missing son. The husband reluctantly agrees to tackle high costs and risks by traveling to Burma and finding out if he is indeed there.
LOSS / HOPE / DELUSION / OBSESSION
The films both share commonality with the themes of loss, hope, delusion and obsession.
In Calvaire, Bartel tells Marc he is deeply saddened by his wife's disappearance. Eventually, Bartel begins to feel hope with Marc's arrival - finally a guest at the motel. It's not long where the excitement turns into delusion when he believes Marc is his missing wife coming back to him. Another example is Boris, a local around the area, who is shown wandering the motel grounds looking and calling out for his lost dog. He, too, finds his dog later on.
In Vinyan, there is the obvious plot-driven loss of the couple, Jeanne and Paul Bellemer's, son. But there are other layers of loss filled throughout the film. Financial loss - Jeanne and Paul spending over 1 million dollars to travel via black market to Burma based on a videotaped image she believes to be their son. Also, that same videotaped image strangely signifies another eventual loss - love. Their marriage deteriorates scene-by-scene as Jeanne becomes more obsessed with the search, contrasted against Paul's disillusionment for the situation to be rectified. She holds out hope throughout, and despises his skeptical nature.
I think Du Welz creates a blurry line between false hope and delusion. Maybe Bartel irrationally believes Marc to be his missing wife. His playful mood when meeting Marc would be placed into better context. But for Bartel and Boris, was there ever a wife or a dog to begin with? Maybe Jeanne is doing nothing than what any good mother would do for their missing child. In the end, they never find their lost son, which raises the important question: was her belief in the image, rather than the actual image itself, delusional? Despite the image's complete lack of authentication, you certainly can't fault her, can you? But the catalyst Du Welz drives home to rationalize the hope and delusion is loss. Losing a loved one (wife, child, dog) is a serious life-altering event. How can one continue to think and act rationally? Obsession grows from trauma, and not all the time does it look normal.
GENDER / DEATH / "GOD"
The films both share commonality with the themes of gender, death, and "god".
In Calvaire, the only women shown are at Marc's previous tour stop (a nursing home). One of the female staff members tries to make sexual advances to Marc, which he politely declines. Once stuck at the motel, there are no women present - only Bartel, Boris and a few locals at the farm. Bartel's delusional fantasy designates Marc as his wife, despite Marc clearly being male and not being his actual, former wife. Finally, Bartel falls into quicksand and dies trying to capture an escaping Marc, whom watches with a somber indifference, at the end of the film.
In Vinyan, women are once again shown minimally. Besides Jeanne as one of the protagonists, the only scenes containing women are the faceless pole dancers in the Thai bar. Although the camera stays on the couple, and we experience their journey with them together, the ending changes that focus. When the Burma children surround and beat Paul to death, Jeanne watches from afar with a eerily similar indifference. Jeanne is surrounded by the Burman children and gently touched, as if being honored.
While this author doesn't believe Du Welz purposefully set out to make feminist films, they are expressive in their content specifically about the female gender. A world lacking in femininity (Calvaire) finds mentally unstable men resorting to fantasy. A world with femininity in another (Vinyan) finds unsupportive men questioning their lover at every turn. The only people worshipped like gods in the films are "women": Marc (as Bartel's wife) and Jeanne. Is it coincidental that the only deaths in the two films (Bartel, Paul) are men?
(c) 2012 rkummer
Calvaire (The Ordeal) Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Calvaire_(film)
Vinyan Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinyan
Fabrice Du Welz Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fabrice_du_Welz