Brotherhood of the Wolf
(Le Pacte des Loups)
Born of a 200 year old French legend and nested in the mystic of exquisitely primitive landscapes, the previews of Brotherhood of the Wolf might deceive you into perceiving it to be a martial arts film costumed for Versailles. You decide it might have possibilities anyway until the ticket seller holds your ticket tightly in their hand and warns dutifully of foreboding English subtitles. Tell them: You know, your reviewer has already seen it twice and please don't discourage the masses from experiencing this cinematic masterpiece any further.
In the mid 1760's, a wild beast roamed Gévaudan, a rugged province in southern France. Dozens of people, mostly women and children, disappeared. The corpses that were recovered bore the marks of a savage attack by a wild animal. The story of the killings spread like wildfire through Europe, forcing King Louis XV to dispatch special agents to hunt the beast down. For three years, the Beast of Gévaudan ravaged the countryside and eluded its captures. During those years, France and Britain were engaged in a war for control of land in the New World, and the British found great amusement in pointing out that the French were not capable of capturing a single wolf. The King, seeing a threat to his absolute authority, ordered a suitably fearsome wolf killed and paraded through the streets of Paris in an effort to diminish the mystic of the burgeoning legend. In Gévaudan, the killings continued.
Brotherhood of the Wolf lays down the legend in a thoughful attempt to preserve the historical characters and facts of the story. With a flashy sprinkling of fiction woven like fine silk into the screenplay, it endeavors to captivate a broad range of audiences who might be brave enough to forge past the marketing ploys and ticket sellers. In its homeland, Le Pacte des Loups has already taken Europe by storm.
While Hollywood has effectively cornered the world market on film distribution, few remember that cinema was born in France in the late 19th Century. In recent years, European film has attracted a wider range of American audiences who have tired of the Hollywood blockbuster mentality and long for the depth and tapestries that European film has long been noted for. Unfortunately, American audiences still use subtitles as an excuse not to broaden their cultural horizons. They complain that having to read and watch at the same time is simply too much work. Here's a observation to consider, not only are the 15-25 aged video game targeted audiences mesmerized by the slow motion martial arts scenes they are actually reading the subtitles and learning a bit about the history of France. It's possible YOU might be missing out on something by not indulging in the revelry. The real tragedy, perhaps, is the inability of the subtitles to translate the beauty of the French language, a decision to dub the soundtrack would certainly detract from the intricate tone of the film.
The introduction of the fiction of Mani's character into the legend presents a virtual prism of juxtapositions. Mani (played with brilliance by Mark Dacascos) is the last of his Iroquois tribe, a mystical warrior plucked from his home in New France by Gregoire de Fronsac. His spiritual atonement to the primitive harmonies of his native land are in direct contrast to this new land of the emerging Age of Reason and French passions for self-indulgent sensualities. One is almost seduced into believing the slick slow-motion martial arts scenes fought with sticks and stones somehow fit into French legend. The cinematic treatments certainly lend a twist of beauty to the horror of the hunt. The film's director, Christophe Gans explains it quite simply, "The film is about how people with progressive ideas run up against the old demons of fundamentalism, racism and reactionary violence. That is just as true today as it was then, unfortunately. But this isn't a film with a message. What's important is for those ideas to emerge quite naturally from the action."
The film also boasts an ensemble of today's brightest young French talent. Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is an intriguing hero, a handsomely brave man with common contradictions and weaknesses. His character has complicated subtleties that won't be caught at first glance. The youthful Thomas d' Apcher (Hans Meyer) is a pleasing link between the past and the French Revolution that threatens in the opening scenes, a Revolution that would sweep away forever a world that existed twenty-five years before. As compelling, are the equal beauties that emerge to tear at the strings of Fronsac's heart and soul, Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) is as delightfully innocent as Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) is sensually dangerous.
With a bit of help from ancient architecture and exquisite natural landscapes of Europe, the French are masters at the art of juxtaposition, the dissonant juxtaposition of beauty and horror in the case of Brotherhood. The lavish way the story is painted: with innocent beauties touched by horrifying predators; settings of red velvet brushed by leather; hillside castles drenched in sunsets or hidden behind curtains of icy snow fall, evokes an irresistibly intoxicating dance of life and death.
Quicktime Trailer The Beast of Gévaudan Official Mark Dacascos