Le Pacte des Loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf) (2001)
Genre: such a mixed bag
Eighteenth century conspiracy theorists would have had a field day with this movie and the real events that inspired it. As it is, twenty-first century film goers can watch it then wonder, “What on earth did I just see?” It’s a monster film! It’s a historical! It’s a romance! It’s a bromance! It’s even a martial arts film! That’s right, it’s damn near everything!
It’s during the Reign of Terror. As peasants scream for an aristo’s blood, he ponders events which occurred many years ago. Determined that the truth should be known, he begins to write….
We start with an opening scene that could be called “Jaws on land.” A terrified French peasant girl flees – something – which grabs her and flings her back and forth before killing her. Then two muffled riders find a father and daughter (?) being attacked by more peasants. (The peasants in this film will give you the creeps.) Martial arts fight ensues. The riders ride on and we discover they are Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and Mani (Mark Dacascos), his faithful Mohawk companion/blood brother. Fronsac, a naturalist, has been sent by the King to the province of Gevaudan to investigate the mysterious killings which have terrorized the land for over a year. No one knows what the beast is but it’s evaded the soldiers sent to kill it and Something Must Be Done.
Fronsac and Mani shack up with some decadent aristos and wow them with stories of America. Fronsac flirts with the daughter of the house (Ã‰milie Dequenne) while Mani makes Deep Pronouncements. He’s a Noble Savage, you know. Talks to trees. Does cool martial arts fighting. Communes with nature. A beautiful hunt scene follows which actually does…nothing. The beast kills again. Fronsac flirts more then visits a high class brothel which has a madame (the beautiful Monica Bellucci) who’s into weird shit.
More killing despite the hunt which wiped out most of the area wolves. The King sends his top man who kills a wolf and leans on Fronsac to stuff it and make it look good. Political pressure is applied and Fronsac caves in. But he knows the real beast is still out there. When it kills again, he yields to the entreaties of the young aristo ( Jérémie Renier) he’s befriended and goes back with Mani. More hunting, more martial arts, and we begin to get an inkling of what’s really happening. Well, as much as you can in this film.
Mani is killed. Fronsac mourns then buries him in grand style, vowing revenge. Bizarre nastiness occurs between Fronsac’s wannabe aristo girlfriend and her brother (Vincent Cassel). All of a sudden we’re getting Voice Overs telling us what’s going on – which is good because at this point I totally lose track of the plot. I mean it gets really strange from here on. But I do know…the beast is killed, we’re given some half ass excuse as to what happened and why it was occurring and Fronsac sails off with his lady love – as written down by the aristo who is thoughtfully allowed the night before his execution to pen all this. Yeah, right…
So, why watch this movie? It’s gorgeously filmed. The colors of the aristos’ clothing just jump out and grab you by the throat. The misty landscape is beautiful and director Christophe Gans shows it to best advantage. The martial arts scenes are lovingly shot in real time and slo-mo. The costumes are great, the interiors are fantastic, the music is fine, there’s pageantry all over the place and it’s got a plethora of hunky actors to drool over. There’s also an interesting plot angle of the entrenched aristocrats vs the new Age of Reason sweeping the world if you want to get intellectual. What’s not to love?
Okay, so if you want your movies to actually make sense this one will give you fits. But I’m enjoying the visual feast so much that by the time everything goes to hell in a handcart, I don’t care. The strong cast of actors actually do a pretty good job with what they’re given and I’m still believing in what they’re presenting even as a tiny part of my mind is asking, “WTF?” But I get the idea it’s supposed to be totally over the top so I can’t complain when it is. One reviewer at IMDB calls it “Merchant Ivory takes up kickboxing.” Others label it an amazing genre film. It’s definitely one of a kind – at least so far.