Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Wonderful Love

The opening sequence of Fabrice du Welz’s deliciously twisted 20-minute short depicts hunched-shouldered middle-aged frump Miss Lara (Edith Lemerdy) making her way home through a bleak urban landscape of shadowy underpasses and featureless apartment blocks. A maze of grubby corridors leads to her equally grubby apartment. From a fridge that looks like it was last cleaned when dinosaurs were roaming the earth she takes a birthday cake and cuts herself a slice.

What happens next takes us into SPOILER ALERT territory (although du Welz makes films so unconcerned with traditional narrative conventions that the concept of spoilers really doesn’t impact on his work): a chap named Joe (Philippe Resimont) turns up “for the party” and, when he realizes that there are no guests, just the hostess, shrugs and gets down to business anyway. Business being a male stripper, in case you were wondering. Miss Lara gets rather hot under the collar and invites him to stay for birthday cake after he’s finished gyrating and making lewd gestures. Joe avers that he’d rather just get paid and in the ensuing contretemps Miss Lara stabs him in the throat with a dessert fork.

Miss Lara quickly rectifies this misunderstanding by simply ignoring the fact that Joe is a male stripper for hire with a fork sticking out of his neck, blood bubbling from his lips and the life slowly ebbing out of him, and happily conducts herself as if the two of them are playing house and it’s all very cosy. However, Miss Lara soon comes to believe that his ardour is cooling and, overlooking the fact that it’s because he’s dead, seeks relationship advice from her local butcher (Jackie Berroyer), and picks up an ox tongue from him while she’s there. The butcher advises that she and Joe need to “spice things up”, which Miss Lara takes to mean engaging a swinging couple, while his apprentice Adam (Jean-Luc Couchard) – an earnest young man with a John Merrick-style cranial deformity – unsubtly carries a torch for Miss Lara. Oh, and then there’s the small matter of building superintendents Mr Ottman (Alfred David) and Mr Fulci (Noel Godin) who want a word with Miss Lara about the smell emanating from her apartment.

‘A Wonderful Love’ is a viewing experience akin to watching an episode of a soap opera co-scripted by Mike Leigh and Eli Roth, co-directed by David Lynch and Gaspar Noe and mashed up in the editing room with the butcher’s shop scenes from ‘Delicatessen’. It’s also – and I didn’t expect this of du Welz based on my recollections of ‘Vinyan’ – pretty damned funny.

Most of the humour derives from Edith Lemerdy’s performance. She nails the character, gets the joke and delivers a strangely winsome charm even as she’s scaring the crap out of you. The whole thing is shot (by du Welz’s – thus far – regular DoP Benoit Debie) as a genre fan’s picture book. The angles, the edits, the pure look of the thing – there’s no doubt that ‘A Wonderful Love’ is the work of people with a deep, abiding and, best of all, irreverent passion for horror movies.

Tonally, the humour is more blatant (Mr Fulci indeed!) and the situations more self-evidently milked for their satirical potential than anywhere else in du Welz’s limited filmography. The humour in ‘Calvaire’ is darker and more organic, more intrinsic to character and setting. The humour in ‘Vinyan’ is non-existent. However, there are already elements of ‘Calvaire’ on display and even a hint, in a scene of sexual desperation that kills the morbid laughs like an ice cube down the back of the neck, of the powerful sense of loneliness and disenfranchisement that characterizes ‘Vinyan’.

‘A Wonderful Love’ is worth tracking down. It demonstrates that du Welz was already fully cognizant of his medium and well on the way to developing a thematic consistency. It’s sick, twisted and often guiltily funny.

But mainly sick. And twisted.

No comments: