Color, 2004, 91 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Fabrice du Welz
Starring Laurent Lucas, Philippe Nahon, Jackie Berroyer, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean-Luc Couchard, Gigi Coursigny
Yellow Veil (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Palm Pictures (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Tartan (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Millennium Storm (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL), Studio Canal (Blu-ray & DVD) (France RB/R2 HD/PAL), I-On (DVD) (Germany R2 PAL) / WS (2.35:1) (16:9)

Often grouped as part of the CalvaireFrench New Extremity movement of shocking films (horror and otherwise) that proliferated starting in the Calvaireearly '00s like Inside and Martyrs, Calvaire marked the striking feature debut for director and co-writer Fabrice du Welz, who went on to films like Alleluia, Vinyan, and Adoration. Eccentric and unforgettable, this one caused a stir on the film festival circuit at the time but proved to be tough to market in the U.S. where anyone expecting a straightforward Euro shocker was confronted with a healthy dose of psychosexual black comedy as well.

After performing a low-rent singing gig at a nursing home, Marc Stevens (With a Friend like Harry's Lucas) heads off in his van to his next job only to break down in the middle of nowhere. He ends up being rescued and spirited away to the a nearby village where he stays at an inn run by eccentric, self-professed comic Mr. Bartel (Nahon), who offers to fix the vehicle. Unfortunately nothing is what it seems as the inhabitants of the town have a wide perverse streak that soon manifests into outright torment, delusions, and death. In particular, Bartel harbors an obsession with his departed wife, Gloria, that will turn Marc's detour into a living nightmare.

Essentially a variation on the tried-and-true formula Calvaireof an outsider stumbling into a dangerous community of oddballs, Calvaire finds some new twists on the Calvaireidea in the way Lucas is treated by more than one of the residents-- not to mention a jaw-dropping group dance party scene that really has to be witnessed to be believed. The horror content mostly kicks in during the third act and concludes on one of those ambiguous, poetic notes that's become a trademark of French genre cinema going back at least to Jean Rollin; appropriately, cult item Brigitte Lahaie even pops up early on in an extended cameo as an unusual fan.

Given a moderate release in the U.S. by Palm and in the U.K. by Tartan, Calvaire mostly laid low until it was refurbished for an HD makeover supervised by Welz and cinematographer Benoit Debbie and director Fabrice du Welz. Initially released on French Blu-ray with no English options, it came to Blu-ray in the U.S. from Yellow Veil looking and sounding much better than the numerous DVD predecessors out there. French DTS-HD 5.1 and superfluous Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 stereo options are included, with optional English subtitles. From a video and audio standpoint the presentation is excellent with no significant issues. An optional video intro by Welz (1m26s) in front of a French poster for The Haunting and a full 31m39s interview have him chatting about the process of getting the film back out there, balancing the whites a bit for the current presentation, tackling his first film Calvaireas a Calvairekind of fever dream sprung from his earlier short films, and basing the whole thing on a simple idea of... well, let's not spoil things. Welz also turns up for an audio commentary with production designer Manu de Meulemeester covering the wintertime production (yes, this is technically a Christmas movie), the difficulties wrangling financing, the creation of the intended look of the film, and the approach of their work together on this and subsequent films. Multiple storyboard to film featurettes (2m28s, 6m35s, 2m16s, 8m10s) show the cartoony original drawings compared to the final result, followed by a great 68m47s casting tape selection showing Lucas and others doing various bits of business trying out their roles. A 7m4s production bible features a slew of photographic references and conceptual drawings, plus a behind-the-scenes slideshow (2m40s), a storyboard photo gallery (16m16s), and a new trailer. Previously seen on the Tartan release, Welz's macabre short film A Wonderful Love (22m35s) is presented here in a fresh scan from film with burned-in yellow subtitles. It's a pretty wild companion piece, also dealing with obsession and delusion from a different gender perspective. An insert booklet is also included with an essay by Jack Sargeant.

Reviewed on March 21, 2023.