Calvaire (2004) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A few days before Christmas, traveling entertainer Marc Stevens is stuck at nightfall in a remote wood in the swampy Hautes Fagnes region of Liège, his van conked out. An odd chap who's looking for a lost dog leads Marc to a shuttered inn; the owner gives Marc a room for the night. Next day, the innkeeper, Mr. Bartel, promises to fix the van, demands that Marc not visit the nearby village, and goes through Marc's things while the entertainer takes a walk. At dinner that night, Bartel laments his wife's having left him, and by next day, Marc is in a nightmare that may not end.

  • Marc, a traveling entertainer, is on his way home for Christmas when his van brakes in the middle of a jerkwater town with some strange inhabitans.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • It's shortly before Christmas. Marc Stevens (Laurent Lucas) prepares his make-up for a performance. On stage in a hall lit by fluoerescent lights, he sings a love song to his elderly audience who appear captivated. At the end of the song, they applaud enthusiastically. He wishes them a happy new year whilst he is away.

    Returning to his dressing room, an old lady knocks at the door. He invites her in and he removes his make-up. She explains how much everyone loves him and asks if she may do something. He accepts and she takes his hand and places it between her legs. He pulls his hand away. She leaves in a hurry, saying how foolish she's been.

    As he loads his van, a woman (possibly the manager of the old-folks home, it's not clear) insists on a hug before he leaves. He does so, but the old woman from the dressing room appears at a window, so brushes her off before having trouble starting his van.

    He drives through the countryside on a main road and onto progressively narrower roads ending up on a track through some misty woods. He stops to check a map and sees a sign indicating "Bartel Inn, 3km". Continuing slowly through the heavy rain and the dark, a shadow runs in front of the van, he brakes suddenly and the engine stalls. The van will not restart. He checks under the bonnet and returns to the driver's seat to take his mobile telephone out of the glovebox. The pale face of a young man (Jean-Luc Couchard) appears at the window and asks where his dog, "Bella", is. Marc indicates the direction that the shadow moved. The young man heads off, but Marc calls him back and asks to be guided to the inn. They leave the van. As they head off, the young man, Boris, asks him to be quiet so he can listen out for Bella.

    Boris takes him to the inn and calls up to the owner, M.Bartel (Jackie Berroyer). When the old man's face appears at the window, Boris says that he has brought someone to stay then runs off into the night. M.Bartel says that nobody has stayed in ages, but the rooms are clean.

    The next morning, Marc is woken by the sound of a tractor. He looks out of the window of his room to see his van being towed into the courtyard. M.Bartel greets him as Marc comes outside. He offers to take a look at the van for him. Bartel explains that he used to be a comedian. Marc takes out his mobile phone but it appears not to be working. Bartel takes an interest in it. Marc asks to use Bartel's phone. Bartel makes a call to the local mechanic and appears to speak to the mechanic's wife. There will be a delay. Bartel makes a meal for Marc. Later, Marc sees Bartel working on his van. Marc offers to help, but Bartel says he'll be fine. Marc says he's going for a walk. Bartel warns him to stay away from the village. Marc asks why, but Martel stumbles over his words.

    Whilst Marc is out, Bartel breaks into the back of the van and takes a look at Marc possessions, ending up in the glovebox. He takes Marc's mobile phone. He comes across some documents and photographs in a jacket pocket. Some show a woman with an unbuttoned blouse with captions including "come back soon", "I'm pining for you". It appears to be the woman who hugged him at the beginning of the film.

    On his walk, Marc comes across a ramshackle barn. As he gets closer, he can hear voices. He then sees a group of men who are encouraging a younger man to have sex with a pig. Unseen by the men, Marc watches for a while before heading away.

    Returning to the inn, Bartel is on the telephone and in conversation with the mechanic's wife. There will be a further delay in getting a replacement battery for the van. Marc heads outside to investigate for himself, but Bartel persuades him not to try the van.

    Bartel cooks a meal and as Marc eats, talks about his wife ("Gloria") who left him and how he is unable to tell jokes like he used to. He tells one, but it lacks enthusiasm. He then asks Marc to sing. Marc says he is tired and sings half a song half-heartedly. Bartel insists he finish. Marc completes the song with more gusto. He asks for a wake-up call the next morning and Bartel thanks him for the song.

    Marc wakes the next morning and it's already light. Bartel is nowhere to be found. Boris appears and is no wiser about where Bartel is. Marc checks the van and discovers that the battery has been removed. He goes back inside to make a telephone call but discovers that the line is dead. In fact, it's not even wired up!

    Something attracts he attention to the building across the courtyard. He enters the shabby room and looks around, finding his phone and the photos of the woman on a table. Bartel enters, somewhat annoyed. He says he'd found the phone on the dinner table last night and was going to return it (this does not explain the photos, of course).

    Marc goes up to his room and finds it immaculate, but there are a woman's frocks in the wardrobe. He is distracted by smashing noises from outside. Bartel is taking a sledgehammer to his van. Marc goes back outside to find Bartel splashing petrol on the van. Bartel drops his matches, but as Marc remonstrates with him, Bartel asks why she came back, as if speaking to his wife and picks up the battery and slugs Marc with it. He then torches the van. Bartel drags Marc's unconscious body upstairs and dresses him in his wife's clothes. Next, Marc is struggling, tied to a chair and Bartel is using hand clippers to remove Marc's hair. He succeeds in cropping most of one side. That night, Marc is tied to the bed whilst Bartel prepares for bed. In underpants and a grubby vest, Bartel curls up next to Marc.

    The next morning, Marc is sat on the back of the tractor hitch wearing a dress and a windcheater jacket. Bartel is searching for an axe and talking about what a great Christmas they are going to have. In the forest, Bartel chops down a tree. Marc decides to make a run for it. When Bartel looks around again, Marc is gone. Curses!

    Marc runs some distance but gets caught in a snare. He falls on his face. With hands tied, he's stuck. At night, Bartel drives through the forest, calling out his wife's name. In the dark, torchlight finds Marc. It's Boris. Boris pets Marc's head like a dog's as Marc pleads to be untied. Marc bites Boris' thigh and Boris runs off. At first light, Boris removes the snare and drags Marc onto... ... Bartel's trailer. Two of the villagers, Robert Orton (Philippe Nahon) and his son Tomas Orton (Philippe Grand'Henry), see Bartel's tractor passing through the forest with Marc's unconscious body laid out. They watch at the door to Bartel's barn as Marc's wrists are nailed to a beam like a crucifix. Bartel realises somebody is outside. He shouts that he knows what 'Gloria' has been up to.

    Bartel passes some children (Borhan Du Welz, Maxime Dewitte, Alexis Dewitte, Liam Gilson, Raphaël Schmidt, Eliot Cahay and Farkhad Alekperov) in red hooded coats in the woods(!?!)

    Bartel goes to the village pub, and warns them to stay away from his place. It seems everyone knows what he is up to. He confronts the villager Robert and leaves saying, "it's my wife". One of the villagers (Vincent Cahay) takes to the piano, playing a dischordant dirge which turns into a frenzied beat. The villagers (Romain Protat, Damien Waselle, Viktor Mikol, Nedzad Kurtagic and Yves Vaucher) in the pub begin to dance a strange swaying dance to the music.

    Back at the inn, Bartel explains how he and 'Gloria' are going to reopen the inn with cabaret. There is a knock at the door. Boris has found his dog. The dog turns out to be a calf. Marc begins to wail. The room spins, picking out the faces of Bartel, Boris and Marc. Marc is going mad.

    A shot rings out and Boris spits blood, falling to the floor. Bartel picks out his rifle and smashes the lights out. Marc calls for help so Bartel clouts him with the butt of the gun. Shots ring out and in a dazed state, we see some of the villagers break in. Marc picks up an ornament to knock out Bartel, but Bartel is shot. The door is kicked through and a squealing pig is followed by Robert, Tomas and other villagers. Tomas picks up the calf and asks to leave, but Robert demands a song from Marc. The villagers join in the demand. Robert speaks to Marc as if he is Gloria, asking why she came back. One villager tries to rape Marc. In the mayhem that ensues, more shots ring out. Bartel and Boris are killed. Marc sneaks out. The villagers regroup outside the inn and use the pig as a bloodhound to track Marc's escape.

    The group persues Marc through rivers and woods. In the misty marsh, the pig and villagers give up, but Robert continues alone. Marc comes across a statue of Christ on the cross. Robert eventually catches sight of Marc in the boggy marshland. The chase continues at a snail's pace. Robert falls into soft peat and begins to sink in the bog.

    He calls out to Marc, who turns back. "Why did you come back Gloria? You love me, don't you? Say it". Kneeling by the hole, Marc replies "I loved you".

    We watch the frozen Belgian countryside shrouded in mist pass by. The piano melody is reprised on a violin before the titles appear.

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