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Fabrice du Welz Adoration Review

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Adoration | Review

Adoration | Review

Gloria, You’re Always on the Run Now: Du Welz Completes Ardennes Trilogy with Innocence Lost in Dark Fairy Tale

Fabrice du Welz Adoration ReviewAn exercise wherein true and unfaltering devotion means loving the sinner and blatantly ignoring the sin, the latest film from Belgian auteur Fabrice Du Welz, Adoration, is a brooding, sometimes bloody fairy tale of amour fou. A showcase of adolescent angst which swings for murderous extremes but maintains its semblance of intact innocence in the name of love, the film is actually the third part of Du Welz’s thematic Ardennes trilogy, which includes his 2004 debut Calvaire and 2014’s Alleluia. Those familiar with Du Welz’s work (including 2008’s Vinyan, another stellar showcase of love tested by elements and extremes, and 2016’s English language revenge exercise Message from the King) know flashes of brutality are likely, but there’s a surprising sweetness to his final bow in the rural weirdness of this lush geographical location, which blossoms into dreadful discomfort as innocence lost segues into gothic romance.

Co-written by Du Welz and his writing and/or producing partners from the earlier segments of the trilogy, Romain Protat and Vincent Tavier, their latest rural nightmare explores a troubled attraction between twelve-year-old Paul (Thomas Gioria) and wild-eyed beauty Gloria (Fantine Harduin). Paul lives a lonely, insular existence with his mother (Anaël Snoek, The Wild Boys, 2017) who works as a cleaning lady at an isolated mental institution deep in the heart of Belgium’s most rural region. Exploring the wilderness around him and left to his own devices, the only rule he must strictly follow is to not engage with the patients. Paul finds this impossible when Gloria arrives like windstorm, knocking the boy over in her initial attempt to escape upon admission to the compound. There seems to be an immediate connection, though Paul’s mother hints at the girl’s troubled past and orders him to keep clear of her. Of course, these young things can’t help themselves, and tragedy ensues one night, forcing Gloria and Paul to flee into the woods, endangering the lives of all those who cross their path.

Du Welz has always had a talent for finding the right performer to embody his broken individuals, the most vibrant who are usually women seeking to fill an absence—whether Emmanuelle Beart’s obsessive mother in Vinyan, Lola Duenas’ lovelorn murderess in Alleluia or Teresa Palmer’s lonely Los Angeleno in Message from the King, they are characters as equally sympathetic as they are scary. With Fantine Harduin, who already has a significant history as a celluloid sociopath in Michael Haneke’s Happy End (2017), Du Welz concocts his most terrifying characterization to date with Gloria (also the name of Duenas in Alleluia) mostly because of her inscrutability underlined by her overriding survival instincts and mental instability.

Like a willowy lost sheep from the flock of Charlie Manson, Harduin plays Gloria as if she were teenage Rhoda Penmark birthed by Beatrice Dalle’s Betty Blue, a mixture of bashful innocence, preternatural cunning and prone to alarming hysterical outbursts. Her past a shadowy cloud obfuscating her future, described as her involvemen in “something nasty,” it’s made crystal clear one has to have deeper seated issues to end up where she does, and she’s more than merely a good girl gone wild. As she recruits the unwitting Paul as her accomplice, he responds to her traumatic past by confirming he’s never wanted to hurt anyone. “It comes to us all,” she solemnly confirms.

Opening with a quote from Boileau-Narcejac (the French icons who penned 1955’s Les Diaboliques and 1958’s Vertigo), “it’s up to each of us to awaken the monsters and the fairies,” positing it only takes a matter of perspective to reinterpret the banalities of our everyday lives and transform them into something either fantastical or sinister. Look no further than the pairing of Du Welz and his regular DP, the phenomenal Manu Dacosse, for such interpretations, with the nested mental institution transforming at night into an ominous, looming façade, the likes of which recall the moldy confines of something like Wojciech Has’ classic The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973) as a transportive world of madness bred in the opportunistic confines of isolation.

Thomas Gioria (who made his debut in Xavier Legrand’s searing Custody, 2017) is the wide-eyed, innocent protagonist, whose loneliness leads him to meaningful relationships in nature, including a wounded chaffinch chick he takes under his wing (of note, the chaffinch is a symbol indicating tidings of joy, but the bird’s swift death seems a harbinger for Gloria’s destruction). However, the film’s most magnificent moment of terrifying beauty is an early murder wherein a body spins majestically down a set of stairs, spiraling in terrifying choreography to land with a thud as an inanimate corpse.

Composer Vincent Cahay (who scored Du Welz’s previous Ardennes entries and Message from the King) leads us through the dark corridors of the forest foliage, where Harduin’s red jumper takes on an eerie resemblance to Little Red Riding Hood had the child been an unhinged arsonist who weaves destruction in her wake. Laurent Lucas, the Du Welz regular uniting all three films in the trilogy, makes an all-too-brief appearance as Gloria’s uncle, while Belgian star Benoit Poelvoorde joins Peter Van den Begin (King of the Belgians, 2017) and Charlotte Vandermeersch (The Broken Circle Breakdown, 2012) as several unlucky souls who cross paths with the runaways. Besides Lucas, the overriding motif spanning across the trilogy centers on its particular geographic region, the impenetrable hinterlands of Belgium seemingly ripe for dysfunction and mayhem (and similarly explored for its genre possibilities by Robin Pront in 2015’s The Ardennes).

“Something fatal has to happen,” Gloria tells Paul when he asks her what ‘inexorable’ means – and indeed something does, with the promise of future carnage to come in their toxic pact, where love and devotion are contingent upon Gloria never being left alone…

Reviewed on August 16th at the 2019 Locarno Film Festival – Piazza Grande. 98 Mins

★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com'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), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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