Fantastic Fest 2014: ‘Alleluia’ adds a visceral touch to an infamous story

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Alleluia 
Written for the screen and directed by Fabrice du Welz
Belgium/France, 2014

When it comes to amour fou, no case may be more famous than that of the Lonely Hearts Killers. Two middle-aged lovers, Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, posed as brother and sister in order to con widows out of their money. Raymond would marry the women and attempt to gain control of their assets, but Martha always ended up killing them in a jealous rage. When they were finally caught, the two murderers mocked society for not understanding the purity of their love.

With Alleluia, Fabrice du Welz crafts a French retelling of Raymond and Martha’s story. He begins with Gloria (Lola Dueñas) , a lovelorn mortuary assistant, as she searches for a man on an online dating website. Before long she secures a lunch date with a charming shoe salesman named Michel (Laurent Lucas). It only takes a single night of passion for the couple to fall madly and unequivocally in love.

Welz is completely unconcerned with the particulars of his characters. He provides them with almost no backstory or psychological insight. The near instantaneous devotion that arises between Gloria and Michel demonstrates that Welz does not care to explain why or how his characters fell in love. He is far more eager to illustrate the levels of sheer insanity that that love reaches.

After a certain point, nearly everything about Alleluia feels raw and visceral. As Gloria, Dueñas becomes thoroughly unhinged. She wails in jealousy whenever Michel is with one of the widows and flies into a murderous rage if she catches them together. On top of her animalistic performance, Welz includes several scenes that break the narrative of the story to convey the unreserved lust within Gloria and Michel’s relationship. At one point, for instance, Gloria breaks into a song about how no one could understand the couple’s love for each other. In another scene, both characters engage in a tribal dance beside a raging fire.

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While Welz’s approach to the story is certainly unorthodox, it often provides Alleluia with a thrilling and spontaneous atmosphere. For a while, Gloria and Michel’s deranged antics are enough to keep the viewer in a state of excitement. Unfortunately, there comes a point when the antics start to seem less deranged and more predictable.

The film is divided into four parts, three of which detail the widows’ murders.  Each murder follows nearly the same sequence of events: Michel seduces the victim, Gloria becomes jealous, and she violently murders the widow. While this course of events is shocking the first time around, it soon becomes repetitive.

Alleluia is adept at conveying the graphic consequences of foolish love, but Welz’s single-minded approach to his film soon forces it to begin spinning its wheels. These characters are certainly disturbed and shocking, but such characteristics can only hold a viewer’s attention for so long. In the end, no matter how powerful and pure their love may be, Gloria and Michel are simply too paper-thin to hold the weight of the film.

— Jacob Carter

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