The Vourdalak

After being robbed in a Serbian forest, Marquis Jacques Antoine Saturnin d'Urfé (Kacey Mottet Klein, "Sister," "Happening") an envoy of the French king, is told to seek out the home of Gorcha (voice of filmmaker Adrien Beau), where he will be provided a new horse.  But of the three adult children awaiting the old man’s return from fighting the Turks, only Jegor (Grégoire Colin, "Beau Travail," "Revoir Paris"), the eldest, fails to see their father has become “The Vourdalak.”

Laura's Review: B+

Cowriter (with Hadrien Bouvier)/director Adrien Beau exhibits a skillful ability to balance tone in his feature directorial debut, an adaptation of Aleksei K. Tolstoï’s "La famille du Vourdalak."  At times absurdist, surreal and playful before turning tragic and horrific, this French folk tale posits that love blinds us to danger.

The Marquis, whose white face paint, rouged cheeks, beauty mark and court dress make him look ridiculous among the inhabitants of a rural forest, is first enchanted by the singing of Sdenka (Ariane Labed, "Flux Gourmet"), who he will be thrilled to learn is Gorcha’s daughter.  She runs when she realizes she is being observed and he comes across a chandelier earring and pockets it.  The next woman he approaches turns out to be Piotr (Vassili Schneider), Gorcha’s cross dressing younger son, the owner of that earring.  They will take him to the family home (the Prieuré du Sauvage Monastery), the Marquis noting the devastation wrecked by the Turks, where Jegor’s wife Anja (Claire Duburcq, "1917") curtly serves him a bowl of broth (when the Marquis later goes to talk to her, she’ll be bloodily butchering game and what went into that broth is unappetizing to say the least, a scene both funny and disturbing).

It will be Sdenka who will tell all assembled that Gorcha said he will not be their father if he returns after a certain time, but when the group dines outdoors, Jegor sees what used to be the old man lying beneath a tree.  Now clearly something no longer human (and played by an eerie, life sized puppet), Jegor nonetheless props Gorcha up at their table and acts like all is normal, ‘dad’ thrusting the head of Turk outlaw Alibek on their table, his war prize.  Unlike vampires, vourdalaks only drink the blood of their loved ones and Jegor’s young son Vlad (Gabriel Pavie) will be his first victim, despite the marquis’ efforts to protect him.  Never has saying ‘I love you’ been so fraught.

This adds yet another layer to the delightful attraction between Klein, who attempts to woo Sdenka with courtly gestures she scoffs at, and Labed, who maintains a delicious air of mystery throughout.  It is their relationship which Beau reworks the climax of the story around and he’s come up with a one-two knock-out punch.  The production has all the elements of a fairy tale, from locations and cinematographer David Chizallet’s ("Mustang") color palette to Anne Blanchard’s ("A Very Long Engagement") costume designs, Sdenka’s dress a marvel, its bodice suggesting nudity, its skirt’s colors merging with the brown-reds and vibrant greens of the forest floor.  Music by Martin Le Nouvel and Maïa Xifaras begins with playful harpsichord, becoming more menacing as the film’s horrors become more evident.        

“The Vourdalak” is a unique hybrid of genre and tone.  If you’re looking for something different, Beau’s debut is an unexpected surprise.

Robin's Review: B+

Oscilloscope releases "The Vourdalak" in select theaters on 6/28/24, expanding in subsequent weeks.