Alleluia (2014)

Alleluia first published by Film4 (a second review of it can be found here)

Synopsis: Fabrice du Welz follows up Calvaire and Vinyan with a tale of murderous lovers, drawn from a real-life story.

Review: “I help people do something essential, find the shoe made for their foot.”

The speaker is Michel (Laurent Lucas), a well-groomed charmer out on an internet date with widowed mother Gloria (Lola Dueñas) – yet far from the shoe salesman he claims to be, Michel is a predatory con artist, a black magician and a creep, sweeping women like Gloria off their feet so that he can swindle them of their money. Middle-aged, neglected, lonely Gloria finds in Michel a perfect fit and, even after learning the truth about him, insists on pretending to be his sister and assisting in his seductive schemes. Gloria, however, is a possessive lover, and soon the shoe is on the other foot, as the weak-willed Michel proves unable to resist or escape Gloria’s dangerous hold on him.

So begins an odd-couple murder spree adapted from the real-life case of ‘the lonely hearts killers’ Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, and relocated from America to the Ardennes in Belgium (also the setting of Fabrice du Welz‘s 2004 feature debut Calvaire) – with du Welz bringing this extreme amour fou into stylised focus. “Be careful, there are people with bad intentions out there,” Gloria warns Michel. “They can’t see the immensity of our love… they live in darkness.” Her words seem to refer to us viewers in the theatre’s shadows – and Gloria and Michel are themselves lovers of romantic cinema – but the degree of Gloria’s delusion is also marked by her bursting into a fully orchestrated sung version of her words, and then graphically sawing the foot off their first victim’s corpse, as though there could be no greater expression of her love.

Feet, toes, shoes – Alleluia is a veritable dream for podophiles – but it also anatomises the craziness of desire, and the gulf between cinema’s erotic ideals and its grubbier realisations in life.

Strap: Du Welz takes amour fou to very strange places – and not just the Ardennes – in a homicidal love story whose greatness (and oddness) can be measured in feet.

Anton Bitel