Monday 11 October 2021

Inexorable (Fabrice du Welz, 2021)

Since his excellent 2004 feature debut The Ordeal, filmmaker Fabrice du Welz has consistently come up with strong, engaging work, and his seventh full-length film Inexorable very much continues this tradition.  Despite his Belgian nationality, du Welz has often been linked with the New French Extremity; as with Gaspar Noé—incidentally, another non-French director strongly associated with the movement—du Welz always brings a fine sense of mischief to his films, and we can just about smirk along with the director as he has us squirming in our chairs.  Inexorable sees du Welz reunite with Benoît Poelvoorde, that fine Belgian actor who starred in the director's Adoration (pictured above).  Poelvoorde arguably helped pave the way for the New French Extremity with his 1992 shocker Man Bites Dog, a grim, disturbing film, yet one laced with jet-black humour.  While Inexorable is by no means as gasp-inducing as Man Bites Dog, there is a vague sense here—as in Adoration—that du Welz is taking Poelvoorde back to where it all began.   

Inexorable, which screens tomorrow and Wednesday at the London Film Festival, has some superficial similarities with Welsh horror The Feast, which also played at this year's festival; each film sees a mysterious young woman arriving to work at a palatial house ruled by a bossy matriarch, and this setup leads to predictably messy results as the interloper causes merry mayhem.  And although both films feature a smattering of memorably gory moments, there the comparisons end as The Feast—which nonetheless stands as a reasonably strong debut film—eventually trips over its own ambition, whereas du Welz uses all of his experience to keep Inexorable on track until the very end.  The aptness of the film's title becomes obvious long before the end credits roll; this really is a film that does exactly what it says on the tin.  Come to think of it, most of the titles of du Welz's films are pretty descriptive: witness, say, the intense infatuation on display in Adoration, or how The Ordeal puts both its protagonist and audience through the wringer.  

Bestselling author Marcel (Poelvoorde) and his editor wife Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey) live in a chateau with their young daughter Lucie (Janaina Halloy), whose dogged determination leads to the family expanding to include the majestic Ulysses, a Pyranean Mountain Dog.  Ulysses is a lovely boy, but it's very clear that he's in need of a bit of house training.  Just as Lucie is losing patience with her new pet, he suddenly takes off to explore the family's huge estate; the girl and her mother frantically search for the dog, who is returned by passing stranger Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi).  A highly relieved Jeanne is extremely grateful and insists that Gloria comes inside for a drink, during which the guest declares that she knows how to train Ulysses.  After a fun and productive obedience session in the garden, Gloria agrees to return the next day so that Ulysses can continue with his training; Lucie, who appears to have no friends at school, is delighted with both her dog's progress and the newcomer's presence.  It isn't long before Gloria engineers the sacking of the help, à la Parasite, which swiftly leads to Jeanne offering Gloria a live-in position with the family.  

The dynamic changes when Marcel—who is struggling to make progress with his latest novel—is flattered to learn that Gloria is a keen fan of his work; what's more, she can quote long passages verbatim from Inexorable, the author's most recent smash.  With Jeanne out of town for a couple of days, things really start to hot up, and what follows plays out as a stylish, well-wrought melodrama worthy of Claude Chabrol, a filmmaker who would no doubt have greatly enjoyed this fizzing example of the bourgeoisie under the microscope.  In a recent interview, Fabrice du Welz stated that he wanted Inexorable to be a simple, streamlined affair, and it's certainly the sort of film where we should heed D.H. Lawrence's advice to trust the tale and not the teller.  What's particularly admirable about the film is that it knows when to take its foot off—it would be very easy to overcook this material, and du Welz seems acutely aware of this.  While Inexorable is often a difficult watch—as if its director would want it to be anything else—it's also a gripping, wonderfully assured piece of filmmaking.

Darren Arnold

Images: BFIFlanders Image