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Brotherhood of the Wolf

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Brotherhood of the Wolf

Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Mark Dacascos
Director: Christophe Gans
Rated: NR
RunTime: 142 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genres: Action, Drama, Horror, Martial Arts, Foreign

*Also starring: Vincent Cassel, Monica Bellucci, Emilie Dequenne, Hans Meyer, Virginie Darmon, Jeremie Renier, Jean Yanne

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

When I taught high-school history I followed the cardinal rule: always relate past occurrences to current events to make them seem to leap from the pages of the newspaper. Of course this precept assumes that kids are aware of what's happening today, but for the most part the canon is a valid one.

As perceptive people (who were taught history well in high school) watch Christophe Gans's film "Brotherhood of the Wolf," or "Le pacte des loups)--which was scripted by the director together with Stephane Cabel--they may think of the Holllywood studio that delayed the opening of the Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, "Collateral Damage," deferred because the producers believe that a film about exploding skyscrapers would touch a raw nerve if shown so soon after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. This is a stretch. "Brotherhood" is not about exploding buildings. It is, however, about a terrorist group out to embarrass a nation's ruler by unleashing a series of random killings and in one significant case a murder by administering a lethal substance to the king's principal champion. The only difference is that the action takes place in the France of 237 years back, and if you think that Osama's skullduggery has nothing to do with the theme of the picture think again. Remember what the guillotining of the ristocrats beginning in 1793 was called? Right. The Reign of Terror.

The terrorism that befalls the people of southern France began in 1764, however, and is the material of a legend: that of a seemingly superhuman beast thought to be a wolf which caused havoc by mauling women and children, picking on the most defenseless people of the society in the hilly Gevardon region in the south of France. The wolf is thought to possess a rational mind because of the way it chooses its victims, which leads the handsome Chevalier de Fronsac (Samuel le Bihan)--knowledgeable in and fascinated by the fields of natural sciences and attractive young women--to believe the beast is trained by a malevolent human being. Like the Lone Ranger, he is accompanied by an Indian friend, in this case by Mani (played by the Hawaiian-born martial arts whiz Mark Dacascos), who is given the Noble Savage treatment throughout the lengthy story to the chagrin of the prejudiced members of the aristocracy who assume that Mani is merely Fronsac's valet.

The story deals with an intricate tapestry woven from a yarn about a secret story (think "Eyes Wide Shut" meets "From Hell"); a coverup by a group assigned by the king to kill the beast which fails to do so and instead lugs an ordinary dead animal to the court; and a host of superstitious peasants who look suspiciously like the extras who played the Germanic tribe in "Gladiator" and who regularly urge the burning of witches. With Vincent Cassel in the role of a one-armed warrior, Jean Francois, Emilie Dequenne as Jean Francois' hard-to-get sister Marianne, and veteran actor Monica Bellucci as a bewitching Italian hooker Sylvia, the stage is set for action that mimics the imaginative martial-arts combat of "Matrix" and "Crouching Tiger" and the darkly sylvan ambiance of "Sleepy Hollow."

Unlike the current kung-fu picture "Iron Monkey," the story line is in no way a mere excuse for acrobatic fighting, though director Gans is a fan of samurai adventures. "Brotherhood" speaks to us in high-budget tones with its array of splendidly attired aristos (with Emelie Dequenne ignoring the weight of her stunning red attire to ride like a man on her snorting stallion) and thought-out drama of intrigue in the politics of the French court.

This is a fast-moving historical pageant that modernizes 18th Century France in much the way that current directors bring Shakespeare's tales more or less up to date to be accessible to the present generation. Though it was doubtful that anyone in 18th Century France ever saw a Jon Woo film or laughed appreciatively at the antics of Jackie Chan, Mark Dacascos' Mani turns in a spectacular feat of kickboxing to knock dozens of opponents through the wooden walls as his pal, Samuel Le Bihan's Fronsac, turns in a second-best job with somersaults, kicks and weaponry when he is not busy hitting on the lovely Marianne.

The story is framed by the aristocratic Thomas Age (Jacques Paren) who opens the tale in 1794 as he is about to be shaved by France's national blade--as if to say that everything he went through a couple of decades earlier in tracking down the beast was for nought. What a pleasure to see a French film that not a member of NATO--that's the typical Gallic "no action talk only" genre that passes for art (think "Va Savoir" and "Claire's Knee")-- proving that our friends across the seas are not embarrassed at all to copy Hollywood (and Hong Kong)-style culture.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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