By Carol Borden
Fabrice Du Welz’ Inexorable (Belgium / France, 2021) is part of a long tradition of films wherein an unbalanced woman insinuates herself into a man’s life and and destroys it. Except she is almost always invited and the gentleman almost always makes everything worse. In Inexorable, that man is Marcel Bellmer played by Benoît Poelvoorde (Man Bites Dog (1992)). Marcel is struggling with writer’s block after the astronomical success of his novel, Inexorable. His father-in-law recently passed away leaving an actual manor house with grounds to Marcel and Marcel’s wife Jeanne (Mélanie Doutey), who is also Marcel’s publisher. Presumably, Marcel is also not entirely confident of his ability to succeed on his own. At Jeanne’s insistence, Marcel works in his father-in-law’s home office and is not comfortable with the arrangement, but the psychology of that part of Marcel’s life is largely overshadowed by other, emergent problems. Except for a nice riff in which he is seduced by a passage from his own work. (Or is it?!) Because with this kind of films, the psychology in the psychological thriller is mostly there to justify the particular elements used in presenting the story of an invited interloping woman destroying a successful man’s life. In this case, Gloria (Alba Gaïa Bellugi) is that woman. Returning to the village where she grew up, coincidentally the very village the Bellmers own an estate in, Gloria finds the Bellmer’s dog Ulysse sitting at the end of their long driveway and brings him home to Jeanne, Paola (Anaël Snoek) their nanny/servant and the Bellmer’s distraught daughter Lucie, who have been calling for Ulysse. Jeanne invites Gloria in and then, sympathetic to Gloria’s situation, invited Gloria to stay.
This is when the classic game of cat (lady who just wants love in wrong, wrong ways and possibly vengeance) and mouse but also cat (upper middle class man desperate to cover up whatever it is he did) begins. It is a classic story and I appreciate how Du Welz (Alléluia (2014) and Message from the King (2016)) and his co-screenwriters Aurélien Molas and Joséphine Darcy-Hopkins handle this iteration. It reminds me not only of 1990s American thrillers, but also a bit of both The Housemaid, though it lacks The Housemaid’s humor, and of Parasite, though Inexorable is not as focused on class. What it is focused on is Gloria’s trap and Gloria’s utter commitment to her cause.
Inexorable also does a good job of making Jeanne and Marcel not immediately awful. Some movies with the crazy lady destroying a family will lean too hard on presenting the wife as nagging, cold or sexually unavailable in order to make the ensnared husband more sympathetic. Inexorable doesn’t. And Marcel, though a novelist struggling with writer’s block who might feel angry and emasculated in another story, is generally not terrible on his surface. You can see that story in Marcel if you want. There is evidence in the film between his father-in-law’s office and his trouble maintaining an erection at one point after Jean francophonily tells him that she loves that he smells of cigarettes. He struggles with his new book and drinks something that looks like J&B, but I do no believe it is. But Marcel tries to do the right thing at first. He sees Gloria as someone to talk to about his books. And he tells Gloria about his thoughts about writing about two Belgian fascists (“Rexists”), on of whom dies for love. But of course, these movies are about stripping away the surface and Gloria is willing to tear the surface away with her teeth if necessary. She’s willing to sacrifice a roast chicken. This woman is capable of anything. And Marcel, well, he could tell the truth but he ends up framing a dog, which wins Marcel no friends.
If you are in the mood for a thriller where men are in perilous positions cinematic women are usually in--and don’t realize their peril until too late--Inexorable is a good one. It’s nicely shot and well-acted. Alba Gaïa Bellugi brings a remarkable desperate intensity to Gloria and handles her tonal shifts well. If the manor isn’t quite a character in the film, it certainly makes for a nice background to the events and a reasonable contrast the village and the hotel where Gloria starts her scheme. And Lucie has an excellent birthday performance. If only the Park’s child had a similar one perhaps tragedy could have been averted in Parasite. As for Ulysse the dog, I can’t say for sure that he survives, but I am going to assume everyone realizes he’s a good boy who has been framed.