Le pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf)

Directed by Cristophe Gans
Starring: Samuel Le Bihan, Vincent Cassel, Emilie Dequenne, Monica Bellucci, Mark Dacascos, Jean-François Stévenin, Hans Meyer.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence and gore, and sexuality/nudity.

Review by Evelyn Gildrie-Voyles <evy@filmhead.com>
February 13, 2002

My, my, my is this a beautiful movie. The cinematography, setting, and costumes are just gorgeous. The movie is pretty flawed, but if you like gory bodice-rippers, you really have to see this one in the theatre. It's just too beautiful for the small screen.

Le Pacte des Loups is based on a French legend about a great beast that terrorized the Gevaudan Province around 1764/1765 and then disappeared about a year later. The movie is told in flashback form and traces the investigation of the killings by Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan) and his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos). Fronsac is more than just a naturalist appointed by the king to examine the beast, he is also a ladies man, so he gets involved with two women: the beautiful and aristocratic Marianne De Morangias (Emilie Dequenne) and the mysterious prostitute Sylvia (Monica Bellucci). Mani does not get to dally much with women (although he and a peasant/witch stare at each other a lot). In fact he doesn't even get to talk much; he just gets to kick ass.

That is one of the films flaws: Mani is so much cooler than anyone else in the film, yet he's supposed to be a side kick. Mark Dacascos is a martial artist from Hawaii that has done a slew of B-grade action movies. Hopefully this film will get him better roles in America. He executes the fight choreography exquisitely, exudes silent strength, and has beautiful hair. Not since Legends of the Fall has a man's hair been so lovingly filmed. But where poor Brad Pitt's character and screen presence could not compete with his own hair, the character of Mani and Dacascos sheer physical presence fits perfectly with the long shots of his sleek, flowing locks. What was ridiculous in Legends is kick-ass and dead sexy in Le Pacte.

The character of Fronsac is dwarfed by Mani and unfortunately so is the actor who plays Fronsac. Samuel Le Bihan does a wonderful job being charming, witty and just slightly foppish, but when he has to fight, he's just not that convincing. The fighting in the first half of the movie is done mainly by Mani and combines quick editing cuts and cinematic tricks with Dacascos' obvious acrobatic and martial arts abilities. The fighting in the second half is done mainly by Fronsac and relies heavily on editing and cinematic tricks to provide the excitement that is lacking in the choreography. This means that the big climatic battle between Fronsac and the villain is actually anti-climatic because the really impressive fighting happened earlier in the film. This isn't to say that all the fights are not fun to watch, because they are. The earlier ones are just so much more fun than the ones towards the end.

The film's other big flaw is the beast itself. The film does such a good job establishing the mystery of the beast that actually seeing it is disappointing -- particularly since the beast is a rather clumsy combination of CGI and animatronics, created (it pains me to write) by Igor Chevalier and Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The beast looks alright when it is still, but its movements are extremely clunky. The awkwardness of the beast stands out against the rest of the visual aspects of this production which are extremely well done. I give high, very high, praise to cinematographer Dan Laustsen, art directors François Decaux and Thierry François, film editors Xavier Loutreuil, Sébastien Prangère and David Wu, and costume designer Dominique Borg.

The characters are all very interesting and well-drawn; they say many witty things in French which are translated in large and easily read subtitles. Besides Mani, the character of Sylvia is the stand out of the film. Sylvia is deliciously played by Monica Bellucci and as well as having unforgettable lines and plot twists she also wears the most incredible costumes. Bellucci, Marc Dacascos and their costumes are well worth the 12 dollars I paid for admission.

Generally, the movie is better at the beginning than it is at the end. The opening sequence of a girl being chased and attacked by the beast is sickeningly compelling. The only other sequence as compelling as the opening is Mani's fight with the beast. After this pivotal fight, my mind began to wander a bit and only Bellucci was still completely attention consuming. Le Pacte des Loups blows its cinematic wad early on, and the ending left me feeling entertained but slightly sad.

Le Pacte des Loups could have been a magnificent movie; as it is, it is a good film that looks magnificent.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Le pacte des loups (2001)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Brotherhood of the Wolf: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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