“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death” - Robert Fulghum
We watched Christophe Gans’ 2001 movie “Le Pacte des Loups” - Brotherhood of the Wolf at the weekend. It starred Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos, Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci and Émilie Dequenne, with a host of other supporting actors, well-known in French cinema. The scenario was written by Stéphane Cabel and is a curious mixture of grand guignol, martial arts, sword and sorcery, and boys’ own adventure. Although the story is ultimately run-of-the mill and nothing extraordinary, the cinematography is superb, the music wonderful and the acting very good, presenting a very entertaining package for its 142 minute run time. The film combines the perfect mix of action, adventure and excitement for a wintry Saturday afternoon, with a big bowl of popcorn on hand.
In 1765, historical records show that “something” was lurking in the richly forested mountains of central France. This “beast” tore humans and animals apart with terrible ferocity. The case became so notorious that the King of France himself dispatched envoys to find out what was happening and to capture or kill the creature. By the end, the Beast of Gevaudan had killed over 100 people and to this day, nobody is sure what it was: A wolf, a hyena, or other exotic beast, or perhaps foul play? The “beast” is a popular folk myth in France, which nevertheless, seems to be rooted firmly in real events. The movie takes this record of events in the 18th century, and with a generous mixture of the stuff of folk myths compounds them into the plot of this movie.
Taking the legend of the “beast” as its starting point the movie quickly departs from historical fact and begins an action adventure with mildly supernatural overtones. The two heroes are Gregoire de Fronsac (played with aplomb by Samuel le Bihan – and reminiscent of Jean-Paul Belmondo in his 1962 “Cartouche” character) and Mani (played with suitable mystery and restraint by Mark Dacascos), his native American “blood brother”. De Fronsac has been dispatched by the King to find the beast. De Fronsac is a rational “new man” of the world of the Enlightenment confronting the backward, superstitious France of the countryside outside of the capital. Mani, an Iroquois shaman and hunter represents the “noble savage” and brings to the role another type of wisdom but also superb martial arts skills.
Two strong female leads balance the male leads. The elegant and coldly beautiful prostitute, Sylvia (Monica Bellucci), is a dangerous adversary, whose motives are obscure and one doesn’t know whether she will help or hinder the heroes. On the other hand, is the innocent and fragile Madeleine (Emilie Dequenne), younger sister of protective but crippled Jean François. De Fronsac dallies with both women, enjoying the company of the bedchamber with Sylvia, but falling in love with Madeleine.
The “beast” is shown sparingly, but its use is very effective and the design of the animal is wonderful. The CGI sequences together with the action will keep adventure/horror film fans quite happy. However, the film is quite beautiful cinematically with luscious, slow scenes that pick out atmospheric landscapes, character-developing conversations and interactions, that are mixed judiciously with brilliant camera work for the action scenes. A wonderful dissolve from a shot of a woman’s bare breasts to a snow-covered hilly landscape is quite clever! The interior scenes have a luxurious feel and the delightful detail of a period piece, with magnificent costumes and props looking very authentic. Candlelight and firelight are used to good effect, filling the screen with warm oranges and flesh tones (there is a lot of flesh shown ;-). The exterior shots balance the interiors with rich dark blues, greens and misty watercolours that suit the chilly tale to a tee.
This film is not your “typical” European subtitled “art movie” (there is a rash of quotations marks in today’s post!). However, it is enjoyable entertainment and arty in terms of film-making. Superb cinematography, wonderful acting, great music, a good balance between action sequences and reflective character-building sequences and even hints at a sub-text where rationalism is played against superstition and monarchy is contrasted with the burgeoning republicanism of 18th century France. Overall, a highly engaging and entertaining movie.
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