|Pick of the Week:|
Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Length: 144 min
"Brotherhood of the Wolf" ("Le Pacte des loups") is an entertaining film that is partly a creature feature and partly an 18th-century European costume drama, but there are also martial arts sequences thrown in for good measure. On the DVD, English speakers can either watch the movie in the original French with English subtitles or watch it dubbed in English. I prefer the former, but either way, you're in for a treat.
The film was inspired by the tale-well-known in France-of the beast reputed to have killed scores of people in the rural region of Gévaudan in the mid-1760s. This occurred while the king of France was Louis XV, who permitted the Enlightenment to flourish. The movie's title derives from a (presumably fictitious) secret society opposed to the Enlightenment.
The central character in the film is Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), taxidermist to the king. Louis XV sends Fronsac to the region where the beast is slaughtering people so that when it is killed, its remains can be preserved, stuffed, and mounted. Shortly after his arrival in Gévaudan, the royal taxidermist attends a formal dinner, where he shows the local nobility a stuffed fur-covered trout he has made, and most of the aristocrats are ready to believe there are such fish in Canada.
Accompanying Fronsac is his faithful companion Mani, an Iroquois Indian he has brought to France. As Fronsac and Mani pursue the beast, they ride horses through landscapes of great beauty. Along the way, they get in lots of exciting scrapes where their awesome martial-arts skills come in handy. Meanwhile, Fronsac goes to a brothel where he hooks up with a voluptuous woman (Monica Bellucci) who later saves his life, and he also courts a ravishing young noblewoman whose brother lusts after her.
Unlike others, Fronsac keeps his emotions under control and applies his considerable powers of reasoning in pursuit of the beast. His approach eventually pays off, and when the beast makes its appearance, it turns out to be an old-fashioned movie monster made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. As the movie winds down, Fronsac figures out what's really going on when he uncovers a cult of religious fanatics.
Fronsac is aided in his pursuit of the beast by a young aristocrat named Thomas d'Apcher, and the film employs the device of having a much older d'Apcher tell Fronsac's story many years later. At the time d'Apcher tells the tale, the excesses of the French Revolution have replaced the Enlightment, and an angry mob has gathered to take him to the guillotine.
What I like best about "Brotherhood of the Wolf" is how it refuses to be confined to a single genre, and you never know quite what to expect next. There are lots of action sequences, but these are mixed nicely with sequences that have the mood of a good werewolf movie and sequences that are like an R-rated Merchant-Ivory film. I liked the locations, sets, and costumes a lot, too. Also, I found the movie's handling of its theme of trusting reason over emotion interesting.
The DVD comes with a couple of special features. Watching the deleted scenes allows you to see director Christophe Gans and hear him talk a little about the film. One of the deleted scenes shows that the bordello provided bondage and discipline services and was set up for voyeurs as well. The "Production Notes" feature consists of five pages of English-language text discussing Gans's approach to the movie.
Selected Special Features on the DVD:
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