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Read past reviews by the Film Gang

Brotherhood of the Wolf
Reviewed by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the newly refurbished Del Mar Theater in downtown Santa Cruz, Le Pacte des Loups, or Brotherhood of the Wolf, as it's known in English, is directed by French sci-fi/horror/grade B action flic director and magazine editor, Christophe Gans. The plot is dense and incredibly confusing, in spite of its very simple premise:  there's an 18th century French legend about a wolf-like beast who terrorizes the region of Gévaudan. 

The royal court anthropologist/scientist/taxidermist and New World explorer, Grégoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), and his strong silent Iroquois companion and blood brother Mani (played by Hawaiian martial artist and actor Mark Dacascos) are dispatched to the village from Paris to investigate.  What they encounter, over the course of two hours and ten minutes, is a bunch of decadent corrupt aristocrats; dirty peasants; widespread racial bigotry; a couple of witches, one of whom is also a prostitute; some kind of radical religious sect; a conspiracy to undermine the king; a maiden fair and her incestuous brother; lots and lots of poor innocent hapless wolves (including a white one who is Mani's totem and guide, of course); and, oh yeah, a beast which, as one reviewer pointed out, resembles a cross between Rin Tin Tin-it heeds the call of its master and even licks your hand if you pet it--and a cuisinart-it has metal teeth. Go figure. 

A hodge-podge of genres, this movie looks something like a period piece (it's set in 18th century France and features the French revolution as its background, context and culmination), a martial arts movie (there's lots of slomo Matrix/Crouching Tiger action), a gothic romance complete with bodice-ripping, and a horror/fantasy film. A lot of it is fun: there's excellent cinematography, goofily deployed in the service of some pretty cheesy juxtapositions (a woman's naked breast fades into a snow-covered mountaintop); the martial arts bits are exciting; the scenery is great; and the special effects are good, though repeated ad nauseam. If it didn't take itself seriously, it would make for an interesting Wes Craven-ish spoof, but unfortunately it also seems to want to teach us something (about the misguidedness of the masses, for example, or about the dangers of anti-government right-wing fanaticism).

One of the strangest things about this movie is the way it approaches the multiculturalism implicit in its genre-it's the cinematic equivalent of world music, combining Asian, African, New World, and old European themes and visual effects.  He who dances with the wolves is Native American (with some kung fu thrown in for good measure), while the beast, a rather sweet animal harnessed for evil purposes by the bad aristocratic white men who populate Europe, is from Africa. Thrown in with these innocent and ultimately helpless exotics from the imperial imagination are the indigenous brutes of the metropolis, peasants, who strangely enough resemble aboriginal peoples and sport what look like dreadlocks.  Evil upper-class men and their corrupt lackey women rule over all.  To the rescue comes the insider who has become an outsider because he has traveled and has seen the evil ways of his compatriots.  A multicultural hybridized Renaissance man who picks up whatever works from any culture, this Euro embodies enlightenment rationality tempered with a belief in the marvelous and strange (he got that from the New World too).

In the end, all those nasty aristocrats submit to other, European, metal jaws-it's 1790-something after all.  The brave new bourgeois future belongs to the world traveler, he who combines Old world science and rationality with magic, ancient indigenous beliefs, and Asian fighting skills. Weird.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.    

Copyright Carla Freccero 2002