I hardly know where to start with Christophe Gans’ Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loups) – it’s sort of outside my normal range of subject matter, but the DVD case looked interesting enough, and the price was right, so I thought, “Why not? A historical-costume-mystery-revenge-monster flick – what could be better?” (The film is actually based on events that happened in France in the 1760s.)
The story takes place in 1764, mostly in the province of Gévaudan, which has been beset by a ferocious monster that has been going around killing people – mostly women and children. Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Behan), an explorer and naturalist, is sent, along with his Indian companion from New France, Mani (Mark Dacascos), to investigate. The general consensus is that it’s a monstrous wolf, but Fronsac is not convinced. What he discovers is mystery on mystery in a town populated with a colorful group of people (to say the least), from aristocrats to fairly rowdy peasants. Fronsac is staying at the chateau of the Marquis d’Apcher, whose son, Thomas, is the narrator of the story. Fronsac immediately falls in love with a young noblewoman, Marianne (Émilie Dequenne), whose brother, Jean-François (Vincent Cassel), lost an arm on an expedition to Africa, and while not particularly obnoxious (for a French aristocrat), he certainly has a mouth on him. Fronsac is also intrigued by Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), who – well, shall we just call her a “courtesan” and let it go at that? (Although she turns out to be much more.)
The story gets very convoluted, with political unrest (this is France not too long before the Revolution), secret societies, political maneuvering, hidden alliances, and a lot of fighting.
The script is fairly tight and the momentum only flags in a few place, and not by much. Nor are we burdened with bald exposition taking the place of dialogue – happily, we learn what we need to know about the characters when we need to know it, and the narration by Thomas very neatly fills in background as the action is taking place. The fight scenes, mostly involving Mani, although Fronsac gets his share, are pretty well-done, although the acrobatics are such that one could very easily see them as a little bit of a commentary on the chop-socky movies coming out of Hong Kong. Visually, the film is very clear, without a lot of the murkiness usually associated with monster-in-the-shadows style horror films.
The cast is pretty much on target. Le Bihan’s Fronsac is very engaging, and there are many wonderful moments when you can see the wheels turning as he contemplates some new discovery. Dacascos as Mani, rather than portraying the stereotype of the silent Indian, uses it to set Mani firmly in place as someone who has been taken out of his own context while maintaining his own identity. Duquenne and Cassel are perfect French aristocrats of the period, although once again avoiding stereotype. Bellucci is worth noting for the adept way she changes from high-class “woman of the night” to a no-nonsense secret agent without a hitch.
All in all, an enjoyable two and a half hours, and although it’s not within my favorite genre, Brotherhood of the Wolf has a lot going for it.
Rated R; running time 2 hours, 24 minutes. Full credits at IMDb.
(Universal Pictures Home Entertainment [DVD], 2002)