Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 3:17 pm 
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A mind-blowing, oddball combination in a gorgeous package

'Brotherhood of the Wolf' ('Le Pacte des Loups') is a period costume horror martial-arts werewolf movie with political overtones, based on a true story of a beast that terrorized a mountainous region of southwestern France in 1765, killing over 100 people without ever being tracked down and becoming a legend. In the movie it is tracked down, by the heroic and appealing Gregoire de Fronsac, who discovers a subversive cult behind it led by a diabolical priest. Gregoire travels with an American Indian shaman pal named Mani, a cool mystical looking dude who can kick box like you've never seen and can detect your animal spirit by touching your palm. There are not one but two glamorous babes, one a young aristocrat and one a powerful courtesan. There's also a young marquis who's quite charming and who befriends Gregoire and Mani. It's pure cult material, with a preposterous mix of genres. You'd expect something tacky, but it's a gorgeous movie with good actors, good dialogue, and bold and striking cinematography. Is it all a waste of quality on poor material? Not if you give in to it and enjoy it. I guess it's all very twenty-first century. Certainly the sight of kick boxing in lushly reproduced eighteenth-century French crowd scenes is a rare and new thing. So is the high volume high velocity violence. At the moment it seems clear that hardly anybody is going to see the film till it gets to video. The theater was almost empty when I saw it and I had a feeling that the people who came weren't great readers, and may not have been to a movie with subtitles before and weren't at all comfortable with it. It reminded me of when I saw a James Bond movie in a packed Cairo cinema house and had to sit in the front row with fellahin who couldn't read subtitles in French or Arabic or English any other language. How this film got made is a bit of a mystery but obviously the makers looked to 'The Deerslaye'r and 'The Last of the Mohicans' for inspiration and not to Eric Rohmer or Jean-Luc Godard, yet brought totally French sensibilities to bear in molding the classy performances and luscious mise-en-scene. I can't say that period horror adventure martial arts movies are my thing, but I wouldn't have wanted to miss such a unique and basically excellent cinematic creation.

February 16, 2002

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