Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001)
Director: Christophe Gans
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne
Release date: January 31 (FRA). Vive la France! About time too, I was getting Gallic withdrawal symptoms! This one seems to be well thought of around these parts so without further ado I’m gonna jump right in to 18th Century Oooh-la-la country. May contain a Frog-munching metal lion-thing & spoileurs…
Well, for the most part I concur with the positivity surrounding Brotherhood Of The Wolf (or Le Pacte Des Loups, as I prefer to say). How can I not? A flesh/ metal hybrid monster bastard, martial arts combat, nudity, wolves, incest… eeew, maybe not so much the incest… This thing runs to nearly 140 minutes but apparently there’s a Director’s Cut running longer. If anything they should be chopping between 20-30 minutes off the feature length, there’s a ton of stuff that doesn’t need to be in there. Luckily, Brotherhood drops into Outlander territory – easily ducking a ‘dumbhouse’ tag and delivering a riotous B-movie knees-up in the process. It’s seems odd placing ‘French’ & ‘B-movie’ together; generally, they don’t do those, arty-farters that they are. However, the movie is weighted down by so many genres it ends up paddling frantically to keep its beastly snout above water until it shakes off the dead load and makes land, roughly round about when the leads bushwhack the creature two-thirds of the way through the movie. Meanwhile, one has to sit through long stretches of very little, although beautifully presented. I can’t stress that enough; the film looks stunning (lenser, Dan Laustsen).
Not that the attention to small detail isn’t welcome, it most certainly is, but the fact that Brotherhood is such a tyre-squealing genre crash indicates that historical accuracy isn’t going to be a prerequisite. Do not concern yourself over such trivialities! I can handle Iroquois Indian Mani (Mark Dacascos) knowing the ways of chop-socky, that’s not an issue. But what is an issue is that everyone he gets into a rumble with, particularly those of a gypsy persuasion, also know kung-fu. I wasn’t aware that the Frenchies were, in the 18th Century, knowledgeable in the ways of exotic combat. But it does make for three sprightly Mani-centric fight scenes, the second of which is possibly unnecessary and I suspect included to offset the strolling expository pace of the opening hour. The third dust-up definitely is necessary and formidably dramatic. But don’t think the fighting is done with after that because Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) takes over where Mani left off, while hot on the trail of a shadowy secret society that has designs on seizing control of the country.
The first half of Brotherhood follows in the fearsome wake of Jaws in what I’m sure is a deliberate move by director Christophe Gans. So, we begin with a damsel in distress who gets dragged around noisily. We have Fronsac measuring the old ‘bite radius’ business. We also get the hunt, where every man and his dog go after the Beast but only succeed in blowing away innocent wolfies (not happy with all this lupine slaying, me). Having dispensed with Jaws and come over all Dangerous Liasons, Brotherhood turns into Predator as Fronsac, Mani and Thomas D’Apacher (Jeremie Renier) lay a trap for the Beast. The movie kicks into gear here, what with the monster chase, Mani’s final battle and Fronsac back in to kick some gyppo derriere. It just needed him in the forest, flaming torch in hand, smeared in clods of mud as he Arnie-roars a challenge to his toothy foe – “Rooo-aaarrrgggh!” I loved this section of the film, it’s top stuff.
I presume the Beast carries a literal meaning pertaining to the French Revolution – ‘The Terror’, an animal twisted by man and violently out of control. Gans keeps the Beast mostly under wraps for the first half, always a good ploy. It’s an impressive looking creature (I think Jim Henson’s Workshop is involved) but some of the CGI isn’t great. Often, the beast doesn’t look present in a scene and in one instance appears unrendered as it rises up out of water behind a stricken victim (I was watching a download though and the picture was a bit pixely). But there’s also a dodgy practical moment when it is required to slurp somebody’s hand. Hokey enough as it is trying to insert a sense of abused and misunderstood animal, the protruding tongue looks naff, a bit like that thing in Stargate licking James Spader. Also, while I think on, the ruling court sacks Captain Duhamel (Eric Prat) for failing to catch the beast and announces another hunter will arrive to get after it. I waited for this guy to turn up; he never did. Does he in the ‘Director’s Cut’?
An already crammed movie even finds time to play with a fantastical angle too, bringing in native Indian mysticism when Mani, on some level, seems to achieve a psychic link with a lone white wolf, itself a survivor of a massacre just as we learn Mani was back in the New World. The wolf even acts as a guide and there’s also the suggestion of an ethereal transition as the wolf appears beside Mani’s fallen body. He’s also brought along a magic, life-giving elixir to rescue folk from the brink of death. Not a fan of the Indian potion, particularly its second outing towards the end of the film. Elsewhere, I think some tightening could have been done by losing a few of the more frivolous brothel scenes, despite a few always welcome boobs. Whoa, did I just advocate fewer boobies? Masculinity card confiscated for the weekend… The French Revolution wrap-around featuring an older Thomas doesn’t really add anything beyond reinforcing ‘The Terror/ Beast’ angle. All in all, if Gans had pumped up a more investigative angle for Fronsac and Mani I think Brotherhood would have been a better film.
The actors are having a good time, they know it’s silly material and have some fun. Le Bihan’s got something of the Roddy Pipers (circa They Live) about him. Fronsac prefers to avoid trouble, he likes his science-y dabbling over brawn but woe betides if you rile him. Dacascos is solid as a strong, silent type. I haven’t seen him in anything else but I’ve been told he’s usually in crap. Nah, he’s fine and he can certainly throw some moves (Le Bihan looks ungainly by comparison – that’s not a criticism, I wouldn’t expect them to have the same fighting style) and it’s probably a wise move to keep his dialogue to a minimum. Snidey-face Vincent Cassell turns on the sneer, he’s a Panto villain but it’s okay here. He still manages to maintain a level of ambiguity up to a certain point. The two leading ladies are polar opposites; Emilie Dequenne is barely a presence and it was hard to tell (for me) what attracted Fronsac to Marianne. She’s there to set up the filthy business with her brother, shades of Commodus and Lucilla in Gladiator. I would argue that the Marianne character is almost redundant; the whole incest thing doesn’t need to be in there. Besides, with the enigmatic Sylvia flitting in and out of the action Fronsac’s already got his hands full…
Sylvia is by far the most intriguing character, played with sultry mystery by the Heaven-sent Monica Bellucci. Syliva is a character you want to know more about (and see more of… wearing less if possible), where she’s from, what other perilous adventures has she flirted with? It’s a pity about the heavy-handed monologue establishing the poison, delivered in such a way that you’re left in no doubt that it’s going to play a pivotal part in Fronsac’s journey. Gans throws in a misleading line when the moment arrives but he isn’t fooling anyone; the audience is already primed. Bellucci burns a hole in the screen, I kept forgetting to read the subtitles; I get transfixed by the shape of her mouth, y’know…
Ahem. I’m going for a cold shower. The rest of you go and watch this, if you haven’t already. I’ve had to sit through a pile of cack tanks recently and Brotherhood gave me a boost when the series needed it.
See, you can always rely on the French to come to the rescue! (incendiary device dropped, Wolf backs away from monitor, rubbing his hands gleefully…)
I’m giving it 3 Sticky Belluccis out of 5.
ThereWolf, June 2012