Adoration (2019)

Following Calvaire (2004) and Alléluia (2014), Adoration is the third and final film in Fabrice du Welz‘s so-called Ardennes Trilogy, loosely unified by their Belgian backwoods setting, the religious associations of their titles, the presence of actor Laurent Lucas, and a shared theme of amour fou,

Here the infatuated party is 12-year-old Paul (Thomas Gioria), whom we first see rescuing a chaffinch that has become trapped in wire. “He’s going to die,” Gloria (Fantine Harduin) says of the bird that Paul is nurturing, “if you don’t let him go.” Gloria is an older teen residing at the woodland clinic where Paul’s single mother works, and it is not long before Paul has transferred his affections to this pretty, impulsive young girl, despite warnings from both his mother and the head of the clinic that Gloria’s mental state makes her a danger to others.

Soon Paul and Gloria are on the run together and very much in love. If Gloria’s delusions certainly do come aggressively to the fore, many of the  other characters seem afflicted with similar lovesickness – the sexualised jealousy of Paul’s mother, the obsessive grief of loner Hinkel (Benoît Poelvoorde) for his dead wife – and Paul himself, in his tenacious loyalty towards a woman who is clearly destroying her own life and his, straddles that fragile adolescent line between naïveté and madness. 

The twin elements that propel Adoration are water and fire, the former represented by the river that Gloria insists they follow, and the latter by both the flames of their passion and some more literal blazes set by Gloria as she repeatedly burns their bridges. Naturally these two elements cannot coexist for long, and while Paul at first relishes his adventures with Gloria and pledges his eternal love to her, we can see that reality is on their tail and autumn is beginning to intrude upon their summer idyll. In a film that feels like Jean-Jacques Beineix’s Betty Blue (37° 2 le matin, 1986) rewritten as a YA fairytale, both transience and transmigration become key themes, as the perishability of Paul’s chaffinch ushers in broader notions of mortality and learning to let go, which are of course key lessons in any rite of passage.

There are other birds in the film, whether the barn owls with which Paul chats at night, the chicken that Gloria believes is an agent sent by her uncle (Lucas), or the flocking cranes that Hinkel fancies are the reincarnation of his departed wife. Viewers too can project onto du Welz’s delicate escapade all manner of allegorical interpretations – for in its natural, and not so natural, settings, in its blurring of youthful optimism and adult melancholy, in its evocation of changing seasons and impending death, it is easy both to see and to lose yourself.

© Anton Bitel