BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, THE
In 18th Century France, naturalist Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his American Indian blood brother Mani (Mark Dacascos) are sent to Gevaudan to hunt for the mysterious wolf-like beast that has been killing women and children. Fronsac soon meets Jean-François de Morangias (Vincent Cassel), a sour young man who lost an arm at battle and his sister Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) with whom he falls in love. He visits the local whorehouse where the elusive and very beautiful madam Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) appears to have designs on him. But the killings continue and Fronsac starts to have suspicions that the beast has a master.
Review by Louise Keller:
Although the characters wear 18th century costumes, Brotherhood of the Wolf is far from a traditional period piece, with its slick martial arts moves, creature feature and horror premises. An incongruous, delectable mix of kung-fu action, French costume drama and werewolf movie, this ambitious, somewhat overlong, yet superbly delivered French saga offers a feast of diversity – from its splendid locations and ornate settings to the unforgiving graphic violence of its action scenes. It could be said to be the French version of a blockbuster, although there’s probably too much dialogue to succeed. In fact it’s a very wordy piece with a voice over narration, the identity of which is not revealed until the very end of the film.
It’s definitely not for the squeamish, as tomahawks, swords and arrows hit their mark with plenty of blood and gore: some aspects of the violence and ripping of flesh seem rather gratuitous. We encounter a monster wolf with fangs of iron, a secret society, aristocrats whose superficial lives mask hidden ones, a traditional romance, incest, formidable brothels, family feuds, while the central character is a traditional-styled hero with a mystical apache blood brother whose psychic abilities are only superseded by his kung-fu expertise. Indeed the first third of the film is reportedly faithful to actual events, with all the characters (except for Mani) based on fact. Truth is often stranger than fiction, after all.
Visually striking, the production design is lavish, with beautiful architecture, elaborate decor and at times eye-popping costumes, the brothel scenes offering a feast for the eyes. At times the scenes look plush like oil paintings while others, like the explicit fight scenes, are dark, dank and almost dour. Influenced by Asian action films, the juxtaposition of martial arts moves with the digital animatronics and robotic techniques is surprising. Technically, the film is superb with its exquisite cinematography and absorbing music score. As for the monster that is at the centre of the tale, ‘la bête’ is at its most compelling when we only see glimpses and our imagination is given enough room to … well, imagine. But when we see every part of this porcupine-like monster with wolf eyes in full light, the mystery is shattered. Less is often more, and would certainly have been in this case.
It’s a strong cast with Samuel Le Bihan enigmatic as the protagonist and Hawaiian born Kung Fu champion Mark Dacascos bewitching as the mystical warrior. I especially enjoyed Vincent Cassel’s bitter, embattled one-armed artistocrat, and Monica Bellucci’s glamour puss who uses every inch of her beauty to maximum effect. Brotherhood of the Wolf may not altogether satisfy, but its extraordinary mix of genres will fascinate many. Just a little aside as the credits rolled, I marvelled that the role of the Duc de Moncan is played by Jean-Loup Wolff. How could an actor with such a name NOT be cast in this film!
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Vincent Cassel’s bitter, embattled one-armed artistocrat
BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF, THE (MA)
Le Pacte des Loups
CAST: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Émilie Dequenne , Monica Bellucci, Jérémie Rénier, Mark Dacascos
PRODUCER: Richard Grandpierre, Samuel Hadida
DIRECTOR: Christopher Gans
SCRIPT: Stéphane Cabel, Christophe Gans
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dan Laustsen
EDITOR: Xavier Loutreuil, Sébastien Prangère, David Wu, Christophe Gans (uncredited)
MUSIC: Joseph LoDuca
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Guy-Claude François
RUNNING TIME: 142 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 28, 2002
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
VIDEO RELEASE: (rental) April 23, 2003 (retail) July 2, 2003