We meet the main character of Gloria as she wipes down a corpse in a morgue. Before the title card flashes across the screen, she looks directly at us, saying nothing, but the messages are clear: “Why are you watching this?” “What are you looking at?” “Why are you here?” After finishing Alléluia, I wasn’t entirely sure what I saw or why I watched it, but I did feel very present throughout. The Belgian film, a loose telling of the real-life “Lonely Hearts Killers” from the late 1940s, proves captivating more often than not thanks to its direction and intense lead performances. But just barely.
At its best, Alléluia works as a voyeuristic peek at a couple who are obsessed with one another. At its worst, co-writer/director Fabrice Du Welz concerns himself with said couple’s over-the-top desires and oft-grotesque obsessions in lieu of character development. It’s a frustrating watch not because it’s a poor film, but because it could have been a great film. Du Welz’s direction of his two leads and his beautifully staged tight shots are commendable, and while the film does have its fair share of violence, it’s never excessive. The problem with the film arrives in the first 15 minutes, and Alléluia never fully recovers from it.
The aforementioned Gloria (Lola Dueñas) is a single mother stepping back into the dating scene. She finds Michel (Laurent Lucas) on a dating website and agrees to meet with him. Before the night is over, she is head over heels in love with this man: an alleged shoe salesman. The next evening, she is ready to abandon her child to go off with Michel, despite discovering he is a con man who swindles women for their money. Their love affair is intense, and Du Lenz is in their face with every flick of a tongue or whenever Michel’s foot fetish kicks in (a near masturbation in a church pushes good taste to the edge, but the key word is “near”).
The decision to break the story into acts is a smart one. Each one follows Gloria and Michel posing as brother and sister as they hustle various women (there’s a marriage, a church con, and life with another single mother). Michel’s sociopathic behavior impacts Gloria’s growing jealousy and unpredictable behavior, with the conned women having to deal with the fallout. The culmination of each act erupts in violence, and though it comes to be expected, it doesn’t make it any easier to take in. It’s sometimes gory, but it’s never torture porn. The fact that a distinction has to be made shows how out of control that type of filmmaking has become.
Now for the downside. Du Welz’s eagerness to get to the nastiness at hand eschews believable character behavior/development. We know Michel is crazy before Gloria even meets him, ridding him of any interesting reveals later in the film. I did not buy that Gloria would give up everything so suddenly for Michel. Had there been any semblance of time gone by, this decision would have been easier to swallow. The argument can be made that Gloria has always been crazy, but it never reads that way. Everything that follows is based off this opening, severe misstep.
Fortunately, thanks to a strong final act and direction that answers the question, “What if Bertolucci directed a Grindhouse flick?”, there is entertainment to be found in Alléluia. Gloria and Michel are crazy, and so yet another question has to be asked: how much crazy can you take?