Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des Loupe)
It seems that an increasing number of directors attempt to break free of the normal constraints of genre. All too often this results in a mélange of styles and format that does little more than annoy the audience. Fortunately, there are some moviemakers that have achieved success in this endeavor. Christophe Gans has made this leap with a visually stunning film. The plot concerns a region in 18th century France that has been plagued by a fierce beast, believed to be a wolf. This creature has been striking the villages brutally killing and disemboweling young women and children. The King, concerned of course about the people, sends his Royal taxidermist Chevalier Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Native American partner Mani (Mark Dacascos) to track down the animal and either kill it or capture it for scientific study. What the film is best at here is the way the plot manages to juxtapose the complex class structure inherent at that time. The aristocrats, noble born and condescending, the clergy, self righteous and self important and of course the peasants, long suffering, always looking for any meager iota of enjoyment. This caste system was so firmly entranced in this culture that the various interactions between tiers is as structured as a formal dance. The Chevalier is an intelligent man. He has traveled the world extensively and combines a scientific mind with the heart of an artist. Common to the time he is also a libertine, a lusty man who loves the beautiful, noble Marianne de Morangias (Émilie Dequenne) but thinks nothing of fulfilling his carnal drives with a young woman in the local brothel. There are more characters here than will be comfortable for a causal viewing. You really have to pay attention to follow the many players and their complex relationships. Rather than being a typical horror flick this film transcends those trappings to paint a vast canvas of the social, political and emotional aspects of the time. There is a little something for every taste presented here. Political cover-ups, serial murder, lust and sanctimonious behavior are blended into a tasty treat for the senses. With all this said I have to point out that this is not a movie that you should take too seriously. Just as it presents the cavalier attitudes of the period it presents, the film does not make the mistake of taking itself too seriously. It is based on a real story, as unbelievable as this may seem. There are web sites devoted to occurrences such as this. Truth is often stranger than any fiction Hollywood may devise.
This film shows the fundamental difference between American and European actors. For some reason, most likely how they were trained, the European actor seems capable of bringing a touch of class to any role, no matter how absurd it may appear. This is well shown here. For example, Le Bihan as the Chevalier provides a brilliant performance. He carries himself with the self-assurance of an important man who knows he his more gifted than his peers. The physical swordplay is nothing compared to the verbal jabs he takes at the members of the aristocracy. Dacascos may seem out of place here. Best know for his TV series role in The Crow: Stairway to Heaven, he is a handsome young man that exudes physical and emotional confidence. After all, here is a Hawaiian playing a Native American that knows Oriental martial arts. It takes talent to pull a role like this off. Even my wife was impressed with his attractive persona and appearance. The breakout character here is Monica Bellucci as the lusty prostitute Sylvia. She really brings a smoldering sensuality to her performance. This contrasts very well with the aloof cat and mouse games or sex the high born ladies play. In all, the cast works very well together, playing off each other to near perfection.
As mentioned previously Christophe Gans was the man that brought this film to life. As a director many American audiences may not be familiar with his works. This film is the perfect opportunity to do so. What he and cinematographer Dan Laustsen have created is a visually stunning film. One word of caution maybe prudent here, Gans is an extremely stylistic director. He utilizes a lot of camera and postproduction effects to help tell the story. For example, there are many scenes where the images are trailed across the screen, or are superimposed atop each other. While some may find this a bit artsy I personally was intrigued by the control this man has over film. Gans uses these techniques to fine tune the pace of the movie as if he had a dimmer switch. He is able to increase the pace to keep things moving or tune it down to permit the audience to be enveloped in the mastery of the sets. As with the cast, Gans does not try to make us take this film for more than it is. At its heart is a good old fashion horror flick but done with more style and élan than most that share that basic genre. The production really takes you back in time to when people where trapped in their caste. This held true not only for the lower classes but pertained to the upper echelons as well. Gans has a great attention to details that recreates this world with precision.
The disc is typical of Universals increasing commitment to providing quality discs for every film they produce. The audio is a full, rich Dolby 5.1. The sound field produced is a bit light in the rear speakers except when the action demands it. The sub woofer is well utilized and never overwhelms the dialogue. This film, originally titled Le Pacte des Loupes, is presented in a dubbed format but for the purists out there is a French 5.1 track and English sub-titles. The video is anamorphic and provides a full 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The extras include the typical trailers but there are also a number of deleted scenes for your perusal. This film is not only a beautifully produced work of art it is an enjoyable movie to watch.