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Adrien Beau Le Vourdalak Review


Le Vourdalak | 2023 Venice Film Festival Review

Le Vourdalak | 2023 Venice Film Festival Review

Love in the Blood: Beau Resurrects Russian Vampire Clan in Eccentric Genre Throwback

Adrien Beau Le Vourdalak ReviewChuck Palahniuk wrote it best, referencing an ‘old saying’ in his 1996 novel Fight Club regarding how ‘you always kill the one you love.’ It’s certainly the sentiment ensnaring a crumbling aristocratic family in Adrien Beau’s delightfully vintage debut The Vourdulak, based on an 1841 novella by Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy (a relative of Leo Tolstoy, not to be confused with the Aelita scribe Aleksey Nikolayevich Tolstoy, the Stalinist supporter who George Orwell called a ‘literary prostitute’). These Tolstoyan vampires pre-figure Bram Stoker’s iconic Dracula, taken from a word first utilized by Pushkin of Balkan and Slavic origins with an etymology harnessing a mixture of vampire and lycan lore. This garish nightmare deals exclusively with the former, where the curse of the bloodsucking syndrome demands the victims must be among those the host loves, thus ensuring the decimation of an entire bloodline.

Metaphorically, Beau’s interpretation highlights the perils of patriarchy, where victimization is the inherent fate of those trapped in their own personal microcosm of male domination. Shot in 16mm and utilizing practical effects which are so outlandish they’re as creepy as they are sometimes cheesy, it’s an amusingly bizarre oddity channeling a classical tradition of horror.

Adrien Beau Le Vourdalak Review

After his carriage is wrecked, Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d’Urfe (Kacey Mottet Klein), envoy of the King of France, seeks solace at a nearby home in the middle of the night. He’s denied access, due to random pillaging in the area by the Turks, and told to seek out the estate of Old Gorcha for assistance, if he can make it through the night. Wandering the foreboding woods, the Marquis stumbles upon Piotr (Vassili Scheider), who he mistakes for a woman thanks to the young man’s appearance. After being led to Gorcha’s estate, the Marquis learns Piotr is the youngest son of the absent man, his elder brother Jegor (Gregoire Colin) and wife Anja (Claire Duburcq) looking after the household as they tend to their young son, Vlad (Gabriel Davie). Their sister, Sdenka (Ariane Labed), who is doomed to live out her days in the house as a spinster thanks to a shameful affair in her past, immediately piques the interest of the Marquis. It would appear Gorcha left with a strange ultimatum, suggesting if he’s not returned in exactly six days’ time, the family is to abandon hope of a reunion for fear he’s become a Vourdulak, something the family chooses not to define for the Marquis. Just when it appears all hope is lost, their father appears on the property, though clearly something horrific has befallen him.

Adrien Beau Le Vourdalak Review

Beau, who worked as a designer and scenographer for fashion icons like John Galliano, Dior, and Agnes B., proves to have an eye for the unsettling, who, with DP David Chizallet (Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang) creates an effectively unearthly mise en scene. The deep dank woods are as equally unnerving as the strange old house of Gorcha’s tribe (a vibe Neil Labute’s chatty House of Shadows sorely needed), and as we watch the aimless, white-powdered face of Kacey Mottet Klein stumbling along in the underbrush, he already appears to be one of the undead. He’s joined by an intriguing cast composed of Claire Denis regular Gregoire Colin, Claire Duburcq (Bertrand Mandico’s After Blue) and Vassili Schneider (brother of Neils, recently appearing in Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s Forever Young). But the film’s prized possession is Ariane Labed as the morose Sdenka. “Only sadness and brutality flourish on our lands,” is but one of many morbid sentiments voiced by this eternally brooding clan who seem to dread yet feel undying fealty for their father, an elderly gentleman who stepped out of the house to fight some Turks all on his own.

Whatever empathy or dread we may initially feel for Klein’s lost French emissary quickly dissipates thanks to his lascivious yearning for Sdenka, which leans into sexual assault she circumvents with her cunning. When Gorcha returns (or whose emaciated corpse is, basically, found on the property after his ‘deadline’ has passed), The Vourdalak jumps from the sinister climes of giallo to 1980s creature feature, since he’s a talking skeleton whose dialogue is comically dubbed. Why no one runs away screaming is part of the film’s grody charm. As his loved ones fall victims to their fate, Gorcha finds a rather devious, circuitous way to ensure the hapless Marquis. An original score from Martin Le Nouvel and Maia Xifaras assists in establishing a doomed, forlorn energy to the film, playing like some moldy, lost gem of the 1970s.

Reviewed on September 3rd at the 2023 Venice Film Festival – International Critics’ Week. 90 Mins


Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2021: France (Bruno Dumont), Passing (Rebecca Hall) and Nightmare Alley (Guillermo Del Toro). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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