Fabrice Du Welz’ follow-up to Calvaire is a fitting addition to the realm of grim and sexy French dramas (Du Welz is Belgian; the film is French) which seek to explore the more depraved and darker recesses of humanity. Alleluia tonally conjures Bastards, the recent and similarly not-so-feel-good film from French filmmaker Claire Denis, in that it refuses to shy away from the horrors of our most base instincts and emotions, and the things that drive us to act in terrible ways.
Gloria is a single mother, left by a manipulative husband and living in self-imposed seclusion with her daughter when her friend urges her to try online dating. She meets Michel, a gigolo who exploits middle-aged women and steals their money, using the only talent his sexually abusive mother taught him. Immediately the maternal and desperately lonely Gloria falls for Michel and the pair engage in a dangerously co-dependent relationship, leaching off of each other both emotionally and physically, horribly intertwined, bonded by damage and baggage.
One of the most fascinating concepts both in film and reality is that magic formula that draws two people together, and the way that we pick up on and stubbornly, almost tragically hitch ourselves to that all-too emotional damage we see reflected back at ourselves. The way that co-dependency works is such a spellbinding concept, and can be inherently horrific depending on your perspective.
Gloria allows and encourages Michel to continue seducing women for money, as long as she is his only real love, but jealousy floods in from the periphery and drives Gloria to acts of violence -- acts that don’t push Michel away, but that he seems to enable and even disturbingly enjoy, further cementing their twisted bond. For Michel, Gloria represents an elusive maternal presence, a love that’s unconditional -- he can fuck other women and play his games, but Gloria will always be there; similarly, her escalating acts of aggression reflect the abuse inflicted upon Michel, while also giving Gloria an outlet, a way to enact a form of agency after years of being emotionally manipulated and hurt by men. With each new woman Michel takes to bed, with each promise he breaks, it’s another crack in the fragile porcelain of Gloria’s demented little heart, and watching her break and put herself back together is a truly glorious thing to behold.
Du Welz employs a gritty filmmaking style filled with nightmarish little close-up angles and over-the-shoulder shots that make us feel like we're peering into the dirty lives of others. Combined with a wild performance from Lola Dueñas, Alleluia is a fierce and uncomfortably sexual film, as intoxicating as the ill-advised love between its two leads.
Alleluia speaks to the reality of how disturbing love and relationships really can be, the depravity of the human condition, and our capacity to inflict horror and pain in an effort to cling desperately to some semblance of salvation we find in another.