BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (Le Pacte Des Loups) (director/writer: Christophe Gans; screenwriter: Stéphane Cabel; cinematographer: Dan Laustsen; editor: David Wu; music: Joseph LoDuca; cast: Samuel Le Bihan (Gregoire de Fronsac), Vincent Cassel (Jean-Francois de Morangias), Emilie Dequenne (Marianne de Morangias), Monica Bellucci (Sylvia), Jérémie Rénier (Thomas d’Apcher), Mark Dacascos (Mani), Jean Yanne (Le Comte de Morangias), Jean-François Stévenin (Henri Sardis), Hans Meyer (Marquis d’Apcher), Edith Scob (Mme. De Morangias), Jacques Paren, (Narrator); Runtime: 142; Universal; 2001-France)
“A post-Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon styled film, that is not a good film as much as it is an unusual one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A post-Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon styled film, that is not a good film as much as it is an unusual one. This is a costumed period-piece kung-fu styled adventure, fantasy, romance, horror and religious conspiracy film. It bites off too many genre themes and can’t do justice to all of them, but it tries them all on for size and wears them whether they fit or not. Christophe Gans’ (“Necronomicon“) Brotherhood of the Wolf, co-written by Stéphane Cabel, is taken from a supposedly true old French legend about the Beast of Gevaudan — a huge, werewolf-like monster — who was responsible for the mutilation deaths of numerous people in pre-Revolutionary France times in the mid-18th century, as the victims were mostly women and children.
The Beast threatens the rural French province of Gevaudan in 1764 and despite the presence of the king’s army and the local men on the hunt, the Beast with supernatural powers cannot be caught. The king assigns a scientific-minded envoy, Chevalier Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), who scoffs at the local supernatural beliefs to explain the monster. He brings along his faithful laconic sidekick, the Iroquois he befriended in New France (Canada), Mani (Mark Dacascos), to assist him to catch the animal. The philosophical naturalist and the spiritualist who talks to trees and is in touch with the animal’s souls, make a handsome team of adventurers. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop provided the special-effects expertise for the creation of the Beast of Gevaudan. As one online film critic noted, the Beast looks like an enlarged version of the University of Arkansas’ mascot–the razorback.
The envoy’s host is the venerable Marquis d’Apcher (Hans Meyer) and his bookish and brave son Thomas (Jérémie Rénier-he will write the story). But before the two decked out in long riding coats and tri-corner hats reach their noble host, they make their presence felt quickly as they rescue an old man and his epileptic daughter from some vicious witch-hunters by giving them a dose of their martial arts. This takes place in the forest in a misty setting amidst snow-covered mountain peaks in the background. It is strikingly filmed with slow-mo to fast-mo shots giving way to freeze-frame shots of swordplay, giving the film a childishly cartoonish flavor.
When not examining the victims’ mutilated bodies Fronsac meets the suspicious acting priest, Sardis (Jean-François Stévenin) and the perverted noble family of the Count De Morangias (Jean Yanne). The count being a cold-hearted bigot and an idle man of wealth. His wife (Edith Scob) is a snob who breathes sighs of contempt for anyone not like herself. His bitter one-armed son, Jean-Francoise (Vincent Cassel), is hostile to the envoy when he shows affection for his sister. The only exception to this perverse family is the count’s beautiful and sweet daughter Marianne (Emilie Dequenne). Fronsac falls in love with her and she plays hard to get as she flirts with the rakish Parisian. What Fronsac and Marianne don’t know as yet, is that Jean-Francoise also loves her.
Things heat up when Fronsac and Mani take a tour of the local whorehouse and Fronsac is bewitched by the erotic Italian whore Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), who says she’s just passing through town. Before the high-priced whore takes Fronsac to bed, she’s playing solitaire and telling fortunes while flaunting her heaving bosoms in front of his eager stares. It’s later revealed that she’s on a mysterious mission from Rome.
Besides whoring the two adventurers get into plenty of fights with a group of oddly looking fur-wearing peasants who have something mysterious to do with the Beast and who keep getting into kung-fu matches with Mani. When there are no peasants to fight the heroes are smashing pumpkins with an assortment of unusual weapons, something that is done because it looks good on film and not because it has anything to do with the story.
This 142-minute bizarre epic finally ends by clearing up the mess it created after disclosing that the Beast was being controlled by religious fanatics. While coming to this conclusion, Brotherhood has time to look at the following: the perverted French aristocracy, the secret Templar society, the Indian’s brotherhood with animals, the uses of martial arts, the benefits of peyote for healing, the fun in swashbuckling, the bordello experience, the lifestyles of the rich and the poor in 18th century France, and at the political intrigues at Versailles. It is based on a true story where the beast was actually a wolf, but in this fictionalized version the Beast is definetly not a wolf.
REVIEWED ON 4/11/2002 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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