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'Brotherhood Of The Wolf'

Werewolves of la France 'Brotherhood' built like souffle western

Friday, January 25, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

The French wolves in "Le Pacte des Loups" ("Brotherhood of the Wolf") aren't the kind that whistle at girls. Werewolves? No, they ARE wolves. But forgive me, I'm getting tensed up.

Of The Wolf'

RATING: R for violence and nudity

STARRING: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci

DIRECTOR: Christophe Gans

WEB SITE: www.brotherhoodof



Suffice to say, this is a loup you'd rather not be included in. It's mid-18th-century France -- nearer the worst than best of times -- and King Louis XV is busy waging war against the British in America. He has no time to deal with a nagging homeland security problem in the (pre-Riviera) south stemming from the appetite of la Bete de Gevaudan, a hideous wolf-like creature that is roaming the countryside feasting on a gourmet cuisine of peasant women and children.

Since the military can't catch it, le Roi summons famous zoologist Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan), freshly returned from the New World with his faithful Native American companion Mani (Marc Dacascos). Fronsac has a way with women as well as forensic pathology. Mani has a way with wolves.

Mani also has a way with martial arts, which are not normally associated with the Iroquois. Perhaps he took a correspondence course. In any case, he is well-equipped to deal with the toothless troglodytes thrown up against him and his Kimosabe in the French forests.

Thus far -- except for the Indian -- the story is based on actual bizarre events (embellished by legend) of 1765-1768. Director Christophe Gans unfolds his tale with a keen sense of period detail and spooky atmospheric detail, brilliantly photographed by Dan Lausten. The mystery is well set up. The solution of the mystery, however, is tangled up -- in love, politics, religion and more than a few satanic verses.

Blueblood Marianne (Emilie Dequenne) is the objet of Fronsac's affection, but Sylvia (Monica Bellucci) is the object of his visits to the state-of-the-art bordello, where tired wolf-hunters retire at the end of a hard day. Fronsac has a two-track mind. Marianne has a one-armed brother (Vincent Cassel) with his own incestuous agenda. Everybody has one or two big black beauty-mark moles on their faces, without which you couldn't be a French aristocrat in those days.

Gans, an admirer of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, infuses his souffle western with all the violent brutality of a Peckinpah film. A saving grace is that much of it is stylized, filmed with compelling spurts of fast-forward motion and relatively few spurts of blood.

Guess where the beast's digital animatronics and robotics come from? Not the Lucas-Spielberg factories, but Jim Henson's Creature Shop, birthplace of Babe and Teenage Ninja Turtles and other more benign mutants. If you take any kids to see this (which you shouldn't), prepare them for a Nightmare on Sesame Street and a very ugly day in the Brotherhood.

Prepare yourselves, meanwhile, for understanding French or reading subtitles, which we're rarely called upon to do in a mainstream release and which is actually one of the more enjoyable things about the film. So is the gratuitous Gallic sex, with licentious revels of royals and Druids alike.

It's hard to fathom -- if fun to watch -- the incongruous kung fu francais in this time and place, although it does raise and force us to reconsider that age-old question: What if Bruce Lee met Robespierre disguised as a wolf?

A little too loupy in the end.

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