A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 440 – Brotherhood of the Wolf

Brotherhood of the Wolf – May 14th, 2011

This is a movie I’ve been hearing little things about for some time. I’ve meant to watch it for ages, but it’s so long! And it’s subtitled! And it seemed pretty dark. All together that’s a pretty hefty movie viewing experience, so I put it off. And put it off. And put it off. Until tonight when we had the time and Andy suggested it and a long dark French period piece sounded like a good idea. I don’t know why it appealed to me tonight and not some other night before now, but it did and so we put it in utterly ignorant of what we were actually going to end up watching.

I’m not entirely sure how to even begin to describe this movie. It isn’t any one single type of story. It isn’t even two types. It’s a whole laundry list of genres combined into something unlike anything else I’ve ever seen before. Oh, I’ve seen period action, which is part of what this is. I’ve seen political drama, which it also is. I’ve seen political action and period political. I’ve seen mysteries and martial arts and supernatural themes woven in through intrigue and I’ve seen many combinations. But not all of them in one place. Oh, I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t seen them. But now I have seen this and it is a wonderful thing to know that it exists.

The story is apparently at least superficially based on actual historical events involving a beast or beasts that killed a large number of people in south central France between 1765 and 1767. The exact nature of the beasts responsible for the historical killings is still debated, though there were two large wolves killed at the time which seemed to stop the attacks (if you’re curious, try poking around the links in the wikipedia article on the beast). In the movie the beast attacks are merely the hook to draw the viewer into a story of political intrigue, religious fervor and a small and somewhat isolated town terrorized into submission. It appears to be a supernatural thriller but really, Sherlock Holmes might as well be in play here, for all the actual supernatural events that happen.

The main character in the movie is Grégoire de Fronsac, a royal taxidermist and naturalist who studies animals and has done quite a lot of traveling. He is indisputably the hero of our story, arriving in the area to study the beast’s attacks and to preserve it once it’s caught and/or killed. And Fronsac quickly determines that the beast is far from supernatural, but is also far from the wolf most people believe it to be. It’s something else entirely and he aims to figure it out. Staying at his side is the mysterious Mani, a Mohawk shaman whom he met when in America. Mani may not be the hero of the movie, but he is certainly awesome, kicking a fair amount of ass as well as giving some great little quips and sly looks at just the right moments. Fronsac is all well and good and I certainly liked him as the hero, but Mani’s more fun to watch, and not just because he’s played by Mark Dascascos (who is also the Chairman on Iron Chef America). Of course, since Fronsac and Mani are so determined to get to the bottom of the whole situation there will have to be something standing in their way.

I don’t think I can really go any further with the plot synopsis without spoiling things even more than I already have so I’ll gloss a little. There’s a lot more at work here than a beast attacking shepherds. The title alone implies that there’s a group involved and that group has a motive and a goal and they certainly don’t want Fronsac ruining it all. And all of that would be complex enough, but then there are the two female leads. On one hand you have Marianne, a young noblewoman whom Fronsac becomes enamoured of right from the start. She’s sheltered and young but also clever and compassionate and unwilling to be swayed by tricks and wit. She holds her own quite well for the vast majority of the movie, even in the fairly constrained position she’s grown up in. On the other hand is Sylvia, an Italian courtesan who works in a local brothel. Sylvia is, without a doubt, my favorite character in the entire movie. Mani’s a close second, but Sylvia wins, hands down.

Sylvia is ruthless and calculating and cold and brilliant and very well versed in manipulation and observation. And Sylvia has her own agenda and motives and follows her own path through the events taking place around her. She sleeps with Fronsac several times and seems to know far more of what’s going on than anyone else does. But being a woman of ill repute, she’s gone unnoticed by those who might otherwise try to silence her. Sylvia kicks ass. Sylvia is precisely the sort of character who always makes me giddy and she is played beautifully by Monica Bellucci. I loved every second she got on screen and she certainly made the entire plot more interesting and complicated and I love that.

And even after all of that I have yet to really touch on the fight scenes, which were a fantastic combination of styles and weaponry and camera work. I hadn’t been expecting the sorts of fight scenes this movie has, with beautifully choreographed stunts and enough martial arts to keep it from being just brawling and European swordfighting. Not that I’d have been disappointed with swordfighting! But that would have been expected and really, nothing about this movie is what I expected. Not the action, not the plot, not the intrigue, not the characters and not the epic quality to it.

The movie exists in several acts. There’s the first act, where Fronsac arrives and studies the situation and meets Marianne and her brother, Jean-François and the marquis, Thomas d’Apcher and all the rest of their friends, relatives and associates. The second act involves Fronsac and Mani returning from Paris to resume the hunt. And the third act is when it all comes to a head, with Fronsac exposing the whole conspiracy and exacting revenge for every wrong done against him, his friends and the people of the area. That, plus the gorgeous scenery both inside the buildings and out in the countryside make this movie feel larger and more expansive. It’s both folklore and political history wrapped into one package, a politically minded tall tale with the ultimate femme fatale and some truly awesome fight scenes and yes, it’s a little long, but it’s worth every minute.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brotherhood of the Wolf

May 14, 2011

Brotherhood of the Wolf

I’ve wanted to watch this movie for ages. The very concept of it so intrigued me. A French wire-fu action movie about werewolves? How on Earth did such a thing come to be, and how could I possibly have gone so long without seeing it? What I was not expecting, and what nobody had told me to look forward to was a lush and beautifully produced period drama.

The movie takes as its jumping off point the true mystery of the Beast of Gevaudan, a creature that killed around one hundred villagers and peasants between 1764 and 1767. It features a large collection of actual historical figures and a meticulously designed and executed replication of the world of pre-revolution France. It looks realistic to my untrained eye, at least it looks like most other costume dramas I’ve seen before – only more lavish and higher budget. That’s the end of the realism though. This is decidedly an action/drama/romance/horror/fantasy/mystery. So not so much with the historical accuracy.

Instead what we get is a film that almost defies description, which makes it kind of hard to review. For one thing it has a wealth of characters and some political intrigue which, when combined with reading subtitles to follow what was going on began to stress my plot-following capacity around the first time a whole room full of French aristocracy got together to gossip about the beast and the various efforts made to stop its brutal murders. There’s our hero Gregoir de Fronsac and his Indian companion “Indian Companion.” I mean Mani. Gregoir is a naturalist, taxidermist and scientist who doesn’t believe in the supernatural. Mani is a kickboxing Mohawk, last of his tribe, mystic and spirit walker. The two of them have come to the Gevaudan region of central France to investigate the creature and assist in hunting it down.

As I said there are whole awful lot of characters here, like the local priest Sardis and the elderly healer and his epileptic daughter and such, but there’s only a few you really need to know. There are Gregoir’s two main love interests: the sheltered but independent young Marianne and the worldly and mysterious courtesan Sylvia. There’s the snide one-armed Jean-Francois who delights in hunting and causing trouble. It took me about half the movie before I figured out that he was Marianne’s brother.

The first half of the movie illustrates just how uncatchable this mysterious creature is. We are introduced to it in what appears to be a direct reference to Jaws when it grabs a fleeing young woman and throws her around like a rag doll without ever appearing on screen. Gregoire is unconvinced that it is any simple wolf, and tries to scientifically understand what it is. he measures bite marks (enormous) and examines wounds (revealing the surprising discovery that the beast seems to have metal fangs when one breaks off in a victim.) He cannot make any sense of the data though – this beast defies all common sense.

Then before Gregoire can complete his research the King dispatches a well regarded toadie to eliminate the threat. This agent of the King has Gregoire mock up a fake beast corpse that can be paraded about Paris to prove that the beast is dead and that nothing can escape justice in France. Of course the real beast remains at large, and now it is not just a fearsome and mysterious predator but a threat to the national security since the King cannot afford to be embarrassed by having his ruse exposed.

Gregoire returns to Gevaudan against the express orders of the king’s agents and soon finds himself embroiled in a battle between conspiracies. There’s politics, betrayal, murder and secrets revealed. Things go particularly badly for Gregoire and everybody who is closest to him. Ultimately his quest goes from one of scientific curiosity to bloody vengeance.

This movie is such a unique and beautiful creation. It has intense martial arts fight sequences. It has long quiet scenes that can only be described as melancholy. It has mysticism and magic blended with science and rational thought. It has a mystery at its heart and a horror theme of the unstoppable beast and political intrigue and romance… it’s like about ten movies all blended together into a single film and what is most amazing of all is that it works. Damned if I can figure out how, but it works as a whole. It’s beautiful and haunting and thrilling and touching.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment