Brotherhood Of The Wolf (2001), or Anachronism Pile-Up

7 12 2009

Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film that, despite my best efforts, I cannot totally give in to. A fanciful, stylish action flick set in the mid 18th century, this French export does a lot to set itself apart from the rest of the pack (HA!). There’s honestly not another film like it that I’ve seen; a martial arts/action/monster/ fantasy/period piece that flows fairly seamlessly from genre to genre. I’ll admit I’m impressed, and I’ll even admit I like it at certain points, but there is a line that some movies cross where, once they step over, I can no longer take it seriously and it becomes background noise for my own thoughts instead of entertainment. You know, that line a friend crosses when he starts telling you a story about his date and it ends up turning into a completely overblown lie (“And then her SISTER came in and they both started touching my donger…”)? This film crosses the line about a dozen times, leaving me detached and uncaring.

This is a Mirror Universe version of the Dragnet formula, where the names and places are changed to protect the innocent. The Brotherhood of the Wolf chooses to keep the names of real historical figures in French history and the places they lived, but changed around all the facts. In the 1760s, the province of Gevaudan is being besieged by a large and terrifying beast roaming the lands preying on the weak. Grégoire de Fronsac, the royal taxidermist of Louis XV (!!!), and his Native American buddy Mani, arrive to investigate the beast’s reign of terror. Fronsac is dubious of such a beast’s existence, but it’s difficult to overlook the brutalized victims he encounters and the many stories that come his way. His investigation becomes mired in intrigue when he starts noticing that a secret group is championing this beast in an effort to cause turmoil and overthrow the monarchy. The group will stop at nothing to ensure their plan goes off without a hitch, and soon Fronsac and his friend are the targets of powers he can’t begin to fathom. Can the royal taxidermist discover the secrets of the Brotherhood of the Wolf before it’s too late? Or is alternate-history France doomed under the boot of this secretive regime?

The Brotherhood of the Wolf is to be taken with a grain of salt, presumably, but it’s hard to tell because it’s played so straight. I mean, are we to take very seriously the fact that the ROYAL TAXIDERMIST and the French version of Tonto (Le Tonto) use martial arts and really slick  Gun Fu to take down a society who’s using a freakishly large beast to stir up religious fervor and dethrone the incredibly lame Louis XV? Common sense would say ‘no’, but the tone of Christophe Gans’ film suggests otherwise. Perhaps it’s the self-importance of the main cast that confuses me; everything about their actions suggests that this is the next Truffaut film, and we should all be very concerned about the fate of France in the face of this incredibly literary, high-minded threat. It’s not the fact that it’s weird; I can handle that, trust me. But it’s the severity this absurdity is taken with that I have a problem accepting.

The film has to be noted for looking beautiful, though. The costumes are brilliant, and while I do not know if they are anachronistic or not, it hardly seems to matter considering a Native American in 1760s France can clearly be seen doing martial arts here! The sets are moody, transcendent, and generally just great. I especially like the exquisitely crafted exteriors in the dead of night in the French countryside. Simply amazing. Christophe Gans has that very glossy, very clean style of directing that comes off as emotionally sterile but aesthetically pleasing. There’s nothing especially important about any of the shots, other than that they look cool. Essentially, watching The Brotherhood of the Wolf is the cinematic equivalent of those really nice collectible busts you see at conventions; I can appreciate the work put in, even if it’s all to be taken at face value.

(Note: I have one of those collectible busts. It’s from the movie Lake Placid, and the bust is of former Golden Girl Betty White when she’s telling Bill Pullman, “If I had a dick, this is when I’d tell you to suck it!” $499 put to good use!)

The acting is good for an action film. The standout is Samuel Le Bihan, the fiery and inquisitive Fronsac, the greatest taxidermist of his generation. He exudes that heroic flair as an actor that flows from the screen, inviting us to revel in his heroism. He has a good range, and he veritably breathes that period piece sensuality. Speaking of sensuality, Emilie Dequenne is stunning as Fronsac’s love interest, Marianne de Morangias. Sultry, elegant, and a tiny bit sassy for the 18th century. Not bad. And I fervently wish that Mark Dacascos was not reduced to the mute kung fu guy here, but what can you do? He plays Mani with a non-descript ethnicity and flavor that I can’t really put my finger on, but am certainly glad is there. He has a lot of class, and even though I put him through the ringer in my super-harsh Double Dragon review, I still think he’s a good actor who can put on quite a performance. Vincent Cassel must also be mentioned for his good looks and his over-the-top performance here as a particularly eccentric character who I’ll let you discover on your own. He’s like the Phantom of the Opera, only sexier!

So if you like any of the aforementioned genres, The Brotherhood of the Wolf will be an interesting experiment for you. If you like super-slick foreign action films, this might be something you will want to see. Or if you just like shiny, glossy movies with more style than substance, this is definitely the movie for you (not that there’s anything wrong with that…). It’s not exactly smart or endearing, but in an oddly dramatic, operatic way, it has a beauty that transcends a lot of its faults. Let’s just say it’s not bad and leave it at that. I give The Brotherhood of the Wolf 6 1/2 royal taxidermists out of 10.

I’m going overtime folks! Catch up with me later tonight or tomorrow to find out what I thought of The Room!

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One response

8 12 2009
Anne

So you didn’t notice Monica Bellucci at all? 😉

If you want to see the best Dacascos action movie, give Drive a go.
Mark talks, makes jokes and sings and dances in this one.

And if you think “Rush Hour” rip off, it actually the reverse – I’ve heard that the director of “Rush Hour” admitted to watching “Drive” before directing RH.

Make sure you get the UK collector’s edition though.

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