Mark Reviews Movies

Alléluia

ALLÉLUIA

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Fabrice Du Welz

Cast: Lola Dueñas, Laurent Lucas, Héléna Noguerra, Édith Le Merdy, Anne-Marie Loop, Pili Groyne, Stéphane Bissot

MPAA Rating: Not rated

Running Time: 1:33

Release Date: 7/17/15 (limited); 7/24/15 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 23, 2015

For all of the brutal and shocking acts of physical violence that Alléluia shows us, it's the warped psychological and emotional states of the lead character that end up haunting us. They're a kind of violence unto themselves because the film uses them to attack our notions of empathy. Make no mistake: Gloria (Lola Dueñas) is a murderer. It would be easy to dismiss her as a cold-blooded, psychopathic killer with no sense of right and wrong, but that would be an error. Her murders are crimes of passion. She knows what's right and what's wrong, but her understanding of those concepts is entirely selfish. What's right is any action that allows her to perpetuate her love affair with a specific man, which means that anything that could hinder that love is wrong.

The film understands Gloria. It even comes close to sympathizing with her in the way it sees the object of her unbridled affection as being undeserving of it. She gives up everything for this man—her family and friends, her home, her legal and moral innocence, and everything, really, that constitutes the life she knew before she met him. All she has to show for it is a path strewn with dead bodies behind her, a future that almost guarantees more corpses, and a man who doesn't appreciate everything that she has done to prove that she loves him more than anything else in the world.

Of course, Michel (Laurent Lucas) hasn't asked for any of this. He's a cad—a predatory womanizer and professional scam artist who preys on lonely, desperate women for their money. Gloria starts off as one of his marks, and she's ideal for his purposes. She's a divorcée and a single mother who hasn't had the time or desire to seek out romance since her husband left her (The photos of the two of them together with his face scratched out are, in hindsight, something of a warning for what she ends up doing). She works at a hospital morgue, which might be the closest thing to a literal dead-end job that there is, and seems to have no social life.

Gloria and Michel meet through an online dating website at the insistence of one of her friends. She prepares for their lunch date in the traditional way—choosing an outfit, carefully putting on makeup, and breaking out the stockings. His routine is a bit different, to say the least—burning a photo of Gloria while praying to the elemental forces of the universe that she might succumb to his charms. If we were forced to guess which of these two would turn out to be a ruthless killer of women, we would probably be wrong in our prediction.

They have sex at the end of their date. Michel seems instantly domesticated with Gloria, but then he says he needs some money to keep his shoe store afloat. She gives him some cash, and he disappears. They only meet again because Gloria searches for him at every nearby club until she finds him at one, flirting with other women. He suffers from debilitating headaches from an old head injury and has a history of being sexual abused as a child. Gloria decides she can overlook his ways as long as they can be together.

She can't, of course, and that's why the body count starts. The screenplay by director Fabrice Du Welz and Vincent Tavier is divided into acts, with each one detailing one of Michel's long cons with a woman and Gloria's inevitable inability to deal with the fact that part of his method is to seduce those women. It's not just a professional necessity for him. The film suggest that he wants and/or needs to seduce these women for the benefit of his comparative sanity.

The story gives us a discernible pattern—Michel and Gloria trick a woman into believing they're siblings, Michel engages with the woman sexually, and Gloria, having discovered Michel's betrayal (Is it really one if he tells her he's going to?), kills the woman. The murders are intimately appalling, which means their impact never decreases, no matter how many times they occur.

The film also finds a way to use the pattern to its advantage, giving us some new angle at which to look at these characters. In one setup, Gloria and Michel, taking inspiration from The African Queen, pretend to be Christian missionaries seeking money for a mission in Africa that was attacked by local rebels. There's an unexpectedly playful side to their relationship in this section (with Michel entertaining Gloria with his impression of Humphrey Bogart impersonating a hippopotamus).

The story is clearly inspired by the so-called "Lonely Hearts Killers" of the late 1940s, and the film gives us the psychosexual tension we would expect (Michel's claim that he owns a shoe store turns out to be a logical cover for his foot fetish). Du Welz deftly balances the sensationalistic elements with a more down-to-earth study of obsession. The performances from Dueñas and Lucas provide external monsters with convincing internal pain and fears.

Alléluia tells us what we need to know and nothing more. There are still mysteries to consider by the end. Is Michel keeping Gloria around because he loves her, or is he trapped in fear of what might happen if he leaves her? The final segment seems to answer that question, until it turns the tables on a pleasant domestic scene in a gruesome way. The answer appears to be that we'll never know one way or the other. Maybe that's for the best.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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