Dir: Fabrice Du Welz. Belgium-France. 2014. 90mins
Belgian director Fabrice Du Welz makes an arresting return to the screen with Alleluia, a trippy, offbeat serial killer film propelled by a savagely good Lola Duenas. Du Welz and his co-writer Vincent Tavier take on the real-life natural born killers Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez (dubbed The Honeymoon Killers), whose 1940s murder spree across the US has already prompted several film treatments, including a Spanish-language version by Arturo Ripstein.
Technical credits are strong, but it’s Du Weltz’s confident staging, backed by Dacosse’s visual abilities, which make Alleluia one to watch.
Here, the Spanish actress Lola Duenas (The Sea Inside, Volver), appears speaking French, supported by Laurent Lucas as the weak-willed conman who unleashes the monster within her compellingly crazed character, Gloria.
It has been six years since Du Welz’s last film, Vinyan, and Alleluia is worth the wait (a second, Revolver 45, is also due this year). Defiantly unpredictable and slippery to pin down for the most part, it has a shifting perspective that adds to the undertow. It is shot by the talented Manu Dacosse with a lurking menace in its dark corners and jewelry-neon washes. Creative decisions, from the framing to the colour, place the film always off kilter and out of easy reach. Alleluia screams cult, from its opening sequence where Duenas’ character, Gloria, a morgue attendant, is seen washing a corpse, through to its increasingly uncomfortable denouement.
Part of the pleasure, however, in Alleluia, is the way Du Welz confidently drip-feeds the viewer morsels of information at his own erratic pace. Initially Gloria, the single mother of a young girl, seems in peril herself as she reluctantly sets up an internet date with Michel (Lucas), a shoe-salesman. He’s into the dark arts, chanting invocations and casting spells, and they’re seen immediately having sex. Having taken her for a couple of hundred euros, however, he moves off, and she starts to indulge in rapidly escalating extreme behavior, stalking him around nightclubs.
Michel admits he’s a con man – great at sex, “a skill mom taught me, giving pleasure”, for which he now expects payment. The two form a pact to be together, which involves “working” together and soon Gloria has taken off, abandoning her daughter with a neighbor. The film cuts to the next chapter, and pretty soon we realize it’s not Gloria we need to be worried about at all – it’s the women she meets, or, rather the women Michel meets. Because Gloria is, literally, insanely jealous.
Alleluia is all attempted repression, bursting carnal appetites and escalating craziness, from the witchy Gloria’s petulant tantrums to a speeded-up, and highly effective, voodoo dance the couple performs around a campfire. There’s also, memorably, a foot fetish, some trippy hallucinations, and impromptu mortuary slabs on which Gloria gets to work with a handsaw. Technical credits are strong, but it’s Du Weltz’s confident staging, backed by Dacosse’s visual abilities, which make Alleluia one to watch – in festivals, cult sidebars and for a dose of some real midnight madness.
Production companies: One Eyed, Panique, Radar Films, Savage Films
International sales: SND-M6, www.sndm6group.com
Producers: Clement Miserez, Vincent Tavier, Matthieu Warter
Screenplay: Fabrice Du Welz, Vincent Tavier
Cinematography: Manu Dacosse
Editor: Anne-Laure Guegan
Music: Vincent Cahay
Main cast: Lola Duenas, Laurent Lucas, Stephane Bissot, Edith Le Merdy, Helea Noguerra