Saturday, May 2, 2009

Counting Down the Zeroes: A Beastly Feast for the Eyes

Brotherhood of the Wolf
Le Pacte des loups

Release: 10.11.01
DVD Release: 10.01.02
Rated R
2 hours, 32 minutes

Full Price

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It is said that the best tall tales germinate from a seed of truth. For Le Pacte des loups, a.k.a. Brotherhood of the Wolf, the truth began in the French countryside during the mid-eighteenth century. Over one hundred people were killed in attacks by beastly wolves. The legend of the Beast of Gévaudan is still shrouded in mystery to this day.

In Brotherhood, the mystery is revealed by the recollections of the Marquis d'Apcher as he pens his memoirs. He recalls the brutal killings and how the King dispatched Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), his taxidermist, to investigate the monster. Grégoire and his Iroquois companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos, Cradle 2 the Grave), quickly discover the beast is larger and more deadly than any normal wolf. As the search continues, Grégoire chases more than wolf tales, specifically the courtesan Sylvia (Monica Bellucci, Shoot 'Em Up) and the Count's daughter, Marianne de Morangias (Émilie Dequenne), which her creepy brother Jean-François (Vincent Cassel, Eastern Promises) is none too happy about. As repeated efforts by the local guard to hunt and kill the beast bear no fruit, Grégoire learns the beast's true nature is tied to a political coup.

Period pieces have never really been my cup of tea. How then would one propose to tell a story that is appealing to audiences not typically interested in stuffy clothing, fluffy wigs and verbose posturing? Start by brutally killing a busty damsel. If that doesn't hook them, toss in a savage from a faraway land; let's make him a Native American and, just for kicks, give him mad ninja skills. This savage and his civilized companion are the King's Green Berets compared to the Keystone Cops running around shooting at every shadow in the forest. Horror, action and comedy are covered, but if still unsatisfied, mix in a brothel of naked women and debauchery to lighten the mood even more. You do want to keep the story's tone dark, so it's best to add a pinch of conspiracy and intrigue, another reason to have us looking twice at every character.

Writer-director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill) and writer Stéphane Cabel manage to incorporate all of the above-and more- into Brotherhood. As outlandish as it sounds, they pull it off superbly. Beginning in bloodshed, Brotherhood quickly slips into a cadence, alternating between story exposition and spectacle about every ten minutes. Those spectacles range from bone crunching, hand-to-hand combat to the silky, heaving bosom of Monica Bellucci to peasants tossed about like chew toys by the Beast.

Through a combination of clever transitions and slow-motion, Gans makes Brotherhood a savory visual feast. The Beast, once revealed, is a bizarre and sinister creature that seems nigh unstoppable. Gans ensures audiences understand just how powerful the creature is through a complex battle with Grégoire, Mani and the Marquis (Jérémie Renier, In Bruges). Brotherhood's gruff sound effects drive home the weighty impact of the bullets and the jagged tearing of the blades in ever action sequence.

Gans takes similar care with the softer moments. Watching the camera glide over Bellucci's heart-shaped derriere as the scene subtly changes to the snow-covered hills of Gévaudan was one of my favorite moments, and not solely for a glimpse of bare Bellucci. Gans has a knack for crafting scenes that feel poetic even if the story isn't.

If you find the opportunity to watch it, I highly recommend doing so twice; once with subtitles and once dubbed. I normally prefer subtitles, but with so much action a second, dubbed viewing helps to appreciate the visual details. Being a film not in my native tongue, I hesitate to comment on the acting. Cassel steals every scene he's in, but from what I've seen of him, that is usually the case.

With all that happens in Brotherhood it's hard to imagine it feeling sluggish, but it does lag in parts. The slowness is a minor quibble about an otherwise exhilarating tale of legendary proportions. Thanks to Gans' flourishes, you forget that Brotherhood is little more than a monster movie.

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  1. I love Brotherhood of the Wolf. I have the three disc Canadian version. I was also lucky enough to see this in theater as well.

  2. I caught this in theaters when it released and promptly bought the DVD first chance I had.

  3. I LOVED "Le Pacte des loups" & have not seen in in years. I to saw it in the theater & rented it several times years ago.

    Guess what, Im about to cop this on DVD like right now!


  4. I hope it's as good as you remember! I may watch it once more for my Belluci fix before returning it to my shelf.

  5. Your Belluci fix? Lol. Watch Matrix Revolution as well.

  6. Seen that too. After Brotherhood and MR, I got on a Belluci kick. I watched Malena and Irreversible. Liked Malena but Irreversible was too much even for me.

    She's a beautiful woman. I thought she would've made a great Wonder Woman. At the very least she could be Hippolyta or Circe. Hmmm, I feel a post idea coming on.