Religious zeal and ecstasy take many forms, some not so holy. In the case of Gloria (Lola Dueñas) and Michel (Laurent Lucas), a pair of smitten grifters based on the Lonely Hearts Killers who lit up US tabloids in the late ’40s, these passions devolve into a folie à deux of carnality, jealousy, infantilization, shoe-sniffing, and murder. Such extreme states are hard for a filmmaker to depict without succumbing to Grand Guignol campiness. In “Alleluia,” Belgian director Fabrice du Welz nearly avoids doing so through a detached, exacting style ignited by unhinged performances.
He establishes a tone of blanched morbidity and repressed passion from the opening scene, in which Gloria, a morgue worker, washes, with blank-eyed fascination, the genitals of a dead man. A single mother, she doesn’t get out much, so a friend hooks her up with a stranger, Michel, through a computer-dating service. Preparing for their date, Michel rehearses his lines in a mirror and performs a creepy magic ritual. These two are made for each other.
After transforming Gloria into an orgasmic devotee with his sexual skills (taught to him by his mother, as revealed in an expository post-coital conversation) and bilking her of money, Michel, who is in fact a serial gigolo, dumps her. But Gloria tracks him down and asks to be his accomplice. Having caught some of Gloria’s craziness, Michel agrees.
It does not go smoothly. Insanely jealous, Gloria can’t adjust to the seduction aspect of Michel’s profession. Luckily her morgue experience serves her well when it comes to cleaning up afterward; in one scene she sings a lullaby about her love for Michel while taking a hacksaw to the nude corpse of a victim.
Religious allusions aside, “Alleluia” is like “Psycho” combined with “Bonnie and Clyde,” with Norman and Norma Bates as the conjoined criminal couple on the run. Why do they do it? As Gloria sings in her ditty, no one else can understand the intensity of their love because they are all outside in the darkness. With his Chabrolian skills, du Welz sheds a little light as well.
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Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.