Le Pacte des Loups (literally translated to “The Pact of Wolves) is a French action-adventure thriller directed by Christophe Gans that is loosely based on real events that took place in France in the 18th century. The film was released in the U.S. and other countries under the name “BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF” and chronicles the real-life killings that was built around the legend of the Beast of Gevaudan. The film is an eccentric action film that blends elements of period drama, political conspiracies, gruesome horror, spaghetti western, erotica, bone-crushing martial arts and a mysterious whodunit tale that is served up with some art house sensibilities. Make no mistake, “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is one movie that gets you off, but at the same time, it is also the kind of film that one usually keeps in a locked shelf and not displayed as part of his collection.
Somewhere in the countryside of Gevaudan, a mysterious beast stalks and kills the women and children who live in the valley. The killings send the populace in a fit of panic as only the half-conscious survivors tell tales of a demon-like wolf. Even with the areas best hunters on the prowl, the monster continues to kill without regard, that adds to the stories and ever-growing myth. Gregoire De Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) is a loyal servant to the king and a naturalist sent to investigate the brutal slaughter. Along with his Iroquois companion, Mani (Mark Dacascos) they stumble upon a conspiracy that goes far deeper than a simple monstrous beast and the killings.
“Brotherhood of the Wolf” overflows with Asian and Anime gradation; an abundance of martial arts spectacle, mysticism and vision. Director Christophe Gans film is a grand feast for the eyes and the mind that will leave its fans addicted and a little obsessed. The film has all the qualities that attract the male testosterone and pulls off an adventure film that is on the same vein as the ones made in Asia. America and most of Europe had failed in emulating the Asian style in Martial Arts and this succeeds in transcending its influences that it created something all its own. “Brotherhood of the Wolf” is something different, it sought to reinvent rather than merely copy from established formulas.
Christophe Gans who co-wrote the screenplay with Stephane Gabel, manages to strike a unique balance of a political thriller, a religious conspiracy, elements of strong erotica, whodunit elements around the tone of an action-adventure film. The film can actually succeed even without the snazzy martial arts sequences and would still be a solid movie built on what’s left. Sure, the film won’t be as much fun, but it will prove to be just as effective nonetheless. I liked Gans’ creation for what it is, I m merely trying to point out the fact that the film’s story is complex enough to hold an audience’s attention.
The draw that will no doubt enthrall its audience is the enigmatic Mani, (played by Mark Dacascos) who barely talks, but his presence just shows the promise of layers upon layers of character that made him very intriguing. Mani has that ominous and brooding aura that proved very magnetic, with martial arts skills that is as powerful as a lion and as graceful as a gazelle. Mani is the equivalent of a silent, savage warrior and a Japanese ninja. Samuel Le Bihan plays Fronsac, a naturalist that provides most of the wit and charm. He gives the impression that Mani might be his bodyguard, and it was a clever approach to portray him as a civilized man who can deliver a major smack down when the time came. Director Gans changed the film’s opening fight scene, instead of having Fronsac and Mani engage the peasants, Gans opted to keep Fronsac's fighting skills under wraps until halfway through the film, when we see that there is much more to Fronsac than a charming naturalist following the king’s orders.
It is also to Gans’ credit that he portrays the other main characters in his film with the same enigmatic flair. The one-armed gunman named Jean-Fancois de Morangias (played by Vincent Cassel) makes for an awesome scheming royal while Marianne his sister, (Emilie Dequennne) is very gorgeous and captivating as Fronsac’s love interest. Sex goddess Monica Belucci portrays a mysterious woman called Silvia who is just filled with raw sensuality that can just give you 'wood' and increase it by inches. Belucci may provide the means for male excitement, but her character is as compelling as those of the lead ones; Silvia is also full of layers that makes her character very mystifying and mesmerizing. The cinematography of the film is also excellent, as it exuded that bleak atmosphere that hides its beauty underneath its exterior. The film is filled with gorgeous shots of the countryside and torch-lit castles that complements its tone and mood.
The fight choreography by Philip Kwok, who often made movies alongside Yuen Woo-Ping produces some of the best martial arts fights ever filmed! The scenes with the quarter staff are without equal and are very eye-catching. The fight sequences between Mani and several hunters captured sweeping cinematography that worked in unison with the martial arts moves that looked very reminiscent to those seen in “Crying Freeman”. Gans mixes up the pace with some cool touches of slow-motion and posturing with cool, calculating confidence. The fights are definitely as hard-hitting and superbly choreographed as any we’ve seen from Asia. Gans manages to create ferocious yet graceful acts of acrobatics between Dacascos and Le Bihan, that it appears to be that they were being molded into iconic action heroes. Gans was able to succeed where most Hollywood martial arts films could not; deliver a truly intense, brutal but nifty martial arts sequences.
The one flaw in the film I found is the fact that the final third act threatened the film to collapse upon itself, most would argue that it did; that it felt very “Apocalyse Now”. I somewhat would agree partly but the film is just full of grand displays of what real cinema should be about. I have heard arguments that the Beast in the film looked very fake, but I thought it was meant to look fake. Much of the film’s story is built on the conspiracies surrounding the beast and its myth which was supposed to be ‘man-made’. The film is filled with great production sensibilities and little to no use of CGI.
“Brotherhood of the Wolf” may prove to be as idiosyncratic an action film as you would find which will make it stand out as one of the best action films in 2001. It is so easy to root for its heroes, be aroused with its sexuality, hate the bad guys be intimidated with some of its gruesome horror. (yes it has a good amount of blood and some gore). This willful mish-mashing of genres that includes action, religious and political intrigue, whodunit, and raw sensuality that gets served up in a very sophisticated art house manner makes this film very exciting. It is a true genre-busting film about martial arts, mysterious characters and an adventure epic that fanatics would be proud to own.
Highly Recommended! [ 4 ½ Stars]
The most highly coveted version of the Dvd is the out-of-print 3-disc Canadian release which I managed to own. The 2-disc director’s cut (9 minutes longer) is satisfactory. Please see this film in its original French Language as it preserves a lot of the mood and tone. The Subtitles are excellent.
Brotherhood of the Wolf is a film loosely based upon a local French legend that happened during the 18th century. A Frenchman and his Canadian-Indian buddy are in the area to find out if the legend about a giant beast is true or not. But what they uncover has to be even stranger than anything they could have ever imagined. Is the legend true? What kind of beast roams the countryside slaughtering the innocent viliagers? Can these two strangers put a stop to the brutal killings? … more