TIFF 2014: Alleluia
Inspired by the true story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, famously known as The Lonely Hearts Killers, Fabrice du Welz’s Alleluia delves straight into the psyche of a couple consumed by insane, murderous love. After single mom Gloria (Lola Dueñas) answers an online dating ad from shoe salesman Michel (Laurent Lucas), she falls madly (and I mean madly) in love with him. Michel turns out to be a fraud, a con artist seducing older women before stealing from them, but this doesn’t phase Gloria one bit; she happily agrees to go along with his scams, abandoning her daughter and posing as Michel’s sister.
The plan to let Michel seduce women into giving him money doesn’t go too well. Gloria’s jealousy of her true love sleeping with other women drives her into a murderous rage, and after walking in on Michel having sex with his new wife she strangles her to death. At this point Alleluia drives straight into crazy town, diving head first into the depraved mental states of its central couple. They continue on, finding more lonely women to take advantage of, and with every new death Gloria’s passion for Michel only grows in intensity.
Fabrice du Welz has a penchant for creating truly surreal, unforgettable moments in his films (see this dance scene from Calvaire or the opening of Vinyan), a trend he continues with Alleluia. A surprise musical number with a grisly ending will definitely have people talking, and a kinetic sequence of Gloria and Michel dancing naked around a fire ends up being one of the film’s most beautifully horrific moments. It’s just unfortunate that these highlights happen so sparingly, as Alleluia‘s story plays out rather predictably. Granted, it’s based on a familiar true story (most famously adapted into The Honeymoon Killers), but du Welz’s attempts to punch things up stylistically only work some of the time. Add the abrupt, unsatisfactory ending into the mix and Alleluia winds up being a disappointment.
Credit where it’s due, though: Manu Dacosse’s cinematography constantly impresses, using ultra-grainy 16mm film stock to full effect in establishing the film’s disturbing mood. But it’s Lola Dueñas who impresses the most here, completely throwing herself into her role. She’s simultaneously ferocious and devastating, spending the film’s first half to show her vulnerability before unleashing a whirlwind of rage once she starts killing. Sadly Alleluia‘s finer qualities prove to be more admirable than enjoyable, as the film can’t break free of its old-hat narrative.