I don't know how I would classify Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte de Loups) as a film, but I could say that it is "Dangerous Liaisons" meets "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" coalesced with "Jaws" meets "Sleepy Hollow". Like last year's swashbuckling remake of Dumas "D'Artagnan", this flick is also peppered with a lot of martial arts action amid the backdrop of a troubled French monarchy. This film is definitely a mixture of several movie genres, but if that weren't enough it's also based on historical events.
The story opens in France, circa 1790 where the narrator, who has a date with the guillotine, finalizes his memoirs of events that occurred in 1764, when the French countryside was terrorized by something that savagely killed dozens of women and children. It was named "Beast of Gevaudan", for the region it relentlessly prowled. This was not only unsettling for the peasantry who were in danger of being lunch every time they went to herd their sheep, but King Louis XV, who was battling with not only England for the New World Territory, but with Rome, who believes that the Beast is a materialization of a supernatural force (could it be, Satan?) to keep the king's power and humility in balance. Unable to battle two fronts at once, he calls in renowned naturalist/scientist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) to hunt and slay the Beast. At Fronsac's side is his trusty Iroquois sidekick Mani (Mark Dacascos) who starts some serious ass kicking as soon as he makes his screen appearance. This French version of Kimosabe and Tonto do some vectoring work and pinpoint that most attacks take place in the rural Gevaudan. They travel to the province where they are received at the chateau of local aristocrats; among them is the lovely Marianne (the full cheeked Emilie Dequenne) who catches Fronsac's attention, much to the revulsion of her bitter and snobbish brother Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel, one of my favorite French actors.) The local priest Sardis (Jean-François Stévenin) also meets Fronsac with distrust and disdain. However, Fronsac actively pursues a romance with Marianne, that is when he isn't fucking a mysterious blade-loving courtesan named Slyvia (Cassel's beautiful real-life other half, Monica Bellucci).
Now, I really did love this film, but it would be remiss in my duties as the AMW, if I didn't point out the reasons this movie is a bowl of grits shy from being all that.
First of all, the genre-bending nature of this movie confused you as to exactly the type of flick you were watching. Horror one minute, political the next, then it turned mystery/thriller, after that the romance aspect entered the rotation followed by the superfluous martial arts action every 15 minutes. The fighting sequences, while stunning, just didn't have such a prominent place in a film set in 18th Century France. Marc Decascos went Jackie Chan on some grisly looking gypsies repeatedly in this movie. It was nice the first couple times, but after a while, I started to rue the day that Hong Kong-style choreography became the standard for movies, regardless of context. Next the movie's villain, The Beast, is given too much screen exposure and we see that it is a ridiculous computer generated creation. You lose the illusion, specter, and spell of the unknown, the over-visualizing greatly diminishes the fear factor of your own mind. If the chimera of the beast were maintained throughout the film, as it was in the beginning, its presence would have delivered more impact. Remember, the reason that the shower scene in "Psycho" remains so chilling to this day is that you never actually see the knife piercing the skin. That concept should have been employed in this film but the director cheated. Be forewarned that the 3rd quarter of the movie almost falls flat and for a torturous 30 minutes or so it gets stupid, but fortunately it manages to recover by the end. It finally ends an epic 140 minutes later, which I think was about 30 minutes too long.
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" is an eclectic movie to say the least. You get a mixture of film types along with subplots involving monsters, secret societies, and political schemes, out of place fighting styles, incest, and papal revenge. The movie is entirely in French, with succinct subtitles. Don't be deterred by the language barrier or the nationality of the film, this is a worthy movie. If you are a fan of any of the aforementioned film genres, then you're bound to find something that you like in the movie. If nothing else, the fight scenes will satisfy all of you Ang Lee worshipers. Aspiring Gothlings will also find the scenery and costumes pleasing, not to mention the Cassel/Bellucci look in the film is Goth Boy/Girl of the Week poster material. Finally, just incase you were wondering, no, I didn't simply give this film a good review because of my French heritage; it was genuinely good.
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale: A-
Billz Movie Worthiness Scale Values:
A = movie tickets and popcorn for 2 (about $40 )
B = buy the DVD when it comes out ($25)
C = rent it
D = wait for it to be on cable/pay TV
E = wait for it to be on regular TV
Czarina of the Wolf
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