of the Wolf The Brotherhood of the Wolf AKA Le Pacte Des
Loups (Davis Films/Le Studio Canal/Universal Focus, 2002)
Directed by: Christophe Gans
(In French with English subtitles).
Helmer Christophe Gans' sparse, low-budget track record consisted of one segment of a 3-part horror movie ("Hotel of the Drowned" in 'H.P. Lovecraft's Necronomicon') and the Manga-based (Japanese graphic novel) cult hit Crying Freeman. This, combined with his lifelong passion for genre films somehow convinced big money to back Brotherhood of the Wolf AKA Le Pacte Des Loups, Gans' ambitious historical dark fantasy, epic homage to all the cinematic joys that inspired him. A lush, flamboyant production, this movie became a huge success in his home country, France, and deserves to do the same here and everywhere.
Set during the reign of King Louis XV, between 1765 and 1768 and based on actual events, Brotherhood of the Wolf spins its wild and chilling conjecture around the accounts of 'The Beast of Gevauden', a ferocious animal that killed over 100 people (mostly women and children), in Southwestern France and terrorized the populace. Proliferating tales of an enormous wolf stalking the region became a national issue, especially since the events in question, occurring at a time when France and Britain were at war over New World territories, made King Louis look ridiculous. If all his forces and resources failed to catch one creature, how could they prevail against the British? Attempting to assuage public opinion, the monarch arranged for a fierce-looking wolf to be slain and displayed to the citizens of Paris, an exercise in futility, for folk kept disappearing into the maw of growing myths about the Beast.
His co-written script inspired by this still unexplained series of killings, Gans' plot centers on an enlightenment-influenced naturalist working for the King, Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos), inseparable companions after they saved each other's lives during the course of Gregoire's adventures in "New France". Under royal command to track down the Beast and stuff it for posterity, the pair of protagonists go to Gevauden. There Gregoire: explores the possibility of romance with the aristocratic Marianne de Moranglais (Emile Dequenne); must cope with her creepy, hostile, one-armed brother Jean-Francois (Vincent Cassel); befriends and allies with the forward-thinking young marquis, Thomas D'Apcher (Jeremie Renier); and finds sexual satisfaction with Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), a glamorous courtesan with a secret agenda of her own---all this while carrying out his mission too!
This assignment proves difficult for Gregoire finds himself constantly beset by rampant superstition; entrenched interests; and devious power brokers (including sectarian factions) who perceive their influence being undermined by the Paris-based ruler. Suspense builds while layers of conspiracies connected to secret and occult rites and plots fomenting a revolution to overthrow the throne get revealed and all the while, despite an organized vast wolf slaughter, the deadly depredations continue and the protagonist realizes that the real beast is embodied in devious human masters manipulating a powerful creature to create a climate of fear to serve their own sinister interests.
Featuring dazzling production values galore with its gorgeous sets, costumes, locations and scenery, cinematography and lovely, atmospheric, perfectly complementary score, 'Brotherhood of the Wolf' also contains numerous bouts of exciting Hong Kong-inspired martial arts that somehow avoid incongruity thanks to the focus, energy and expert physical skill of the movements. The Beast, a product of Jim Henson's Creature Shop's expertise, utterly convinces---its bloody business established while its fearsome aspect gets gradually revealed. It generates spine-tingling chills and gasps of emotion from the audience!
The performers, all excellent and engaging, get eclipsed by the beautifully built, agile and adept Mark Dacascos who, exotic and intriguing-looking portraying a Native American, possesses a winning charisma and warmth in addition to his fighting prowess in the best role of his career.
Gans' third feature, a stunning blend of the historical epic, martial arts and dark fantasy genres, despite its non-gratuitous, graphic violence necessary to the plot, sweeps the audience into its relentless, unfolding story that rarely falters at the length of nearly 2 1/2 hours. Brotherhood of the Wolf, beneath its sumptuous, period surface, raises thoughtful questions about the nature of bestiality, the meaning of savagery and explores ecological, feminist, racist and multi-cultural themes that transcend time and space to find relevance to contemporary concerns. This movie represents that rare beast---a wildly entertaining gothic extravaganza of heart-stopping thrills with depth, making its audiences a brotherhood worth joining.
© 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu