See also Marty Mapes’ DVD review of Brotherhood of the Wolf
Nick, my number-one fan, this review is for you. Being a Francophile and a part-time French citizen, you seem to enjoy when some corner of French culture captures the zeitgeist of both France and the U.S. When I hear my MC Solaar disc, I think of you. When someone asks about Amelie, I send them to you. You are my cultural French Connection.
But you’re not so French that you don’t like American culture. Rap music is half the appeal of MC Solaar. Action movies are your cup of tea, your daily baguette. That unique blend of Francais and Americain, of one culture adopted by another, that, my friend, is your unique stylistic flair and part of your charm.
So with you in mind, I recommend The Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups).
R for sex and violence
Did You Notice?
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a high-adrenalin action movie. It’s set in 18th century France, and it kicks more butt than The Patriot. Where all-American Australian Mel Gibson smeared his body in the blood of his foes, Brotherhood of the Wolf takes a more international approach to offing bad guys. It adopts the martial arts choreography and cinematography of Hong Kong’s action exports, and neatly integrates them into a spooky, misty France of three centuries past.
A beast (or rather, The Beast) is terrorizing the village and countryside, killing women and children. Men have been called in to hunt this gigantic wolf, but still it preys on human flesh. Sent to investigate is traveler and naturalist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), who brings his Amerindian sidekick Mani (Marc Dacascos), a sort of last-of-the-Mohicans meets Jet Li.
The two make a heroic impression when they arrive, saving a muddy, epileptic wretch from a mob of witch-hunters. It’s a quick introduction to the film’s style — a period piece, but with martial arts maneuvers shot in stuttering slow motion, amid lush gray-green landscapes that would be idyllic if not for the omnipresent fog and mist. (Frankly, it’s a little hard to take seriously at first, but the style is so broody and strong that it wins you over.)
De Frosnac and Mani settle in to local life — investigating the rumors, joining the frequent wolf-hunts, and observing the power structure of the townspeople.
Homme de la Science
As a man of science, and a skeptical one at that, de Frosnac makes a good lens through which modern audiences can view the relatively superstitious folk of late-Renaissance rural France. In that sense, Brotherhood of the Wolf is like a ghost story.
De Frosnac’s investigation into the lore of The Beast leads him to a fairly clear picture of what they’re hunting. Nearly everyone agrees it’s a wolf, but of enormous size. What puzzles de Frosnac is the corroborating evidence that indicates it has nightmarishly long fangs and perhaps quills or spines growing from its back. It seems as unlikely as a fur-bearing fish. But not having seen The Beast himself, he withholds his judgment.
The investigation, along with the mounting deaths and sightings, keeps the plot moving along at a steady clip. A few twists and turns toward the end need not be given away here.
Une Petite Explication
Brotherhood of the Wolf is an interesting mix of ghost story and action movie, of period piece and gothic horror, of police procedural and martial arts. It’s a mix that works most of the time, but not always. The first time you see the drenched French duo, in tri-corner hats and 18th-century long riding-coats, defeating four times their number, in a fight photographed Matrix-style, it’s a little ridiculous.
The movie also takes far too long to end. A little explication is all the audience needs, but Brotherhood of the Wolf goes on and on. Unimportant details are revealed with great fanfare, and new Shakespearean twists are introduced. The ending is ultimately satisfying, but it comes too late and at too great a cost. The movie’s cool style and creepy, haunted settings are sadly forgotten.
Perhaps it is because the ending lost its focus that the movie didn’t haunt my thoughts. In any case, Brotherhood of the Wolf was a much better movie while I was watching it than it is now, which is my last complaint and perhaps the biggest disappointment.
Nevertheless, Nick, you should get somebody to take you to see this movie. Have an enjoyable night out. It’s a good, entertaining crossover, and worth a look.